Attorney Donald Wackerman gives his opening statement in defense of his client, David Morgan, on Wednesday morning at the Snohomish County Courthouse in Everett.

Attorney Donald Wackerman gives his opening statement in defense of his client, David Morgan, on Wednesday morning at the Snohomish County Courthouse in Everett.

Trial begins for Lynnwood man accused of burning ex-wife

EVERETT — David Morgan became visibly upset Wednesday as his attorney told jurors that the Lynnwood man saw his ex-wife on fire and he tried to get her out of the house.

Firefighters rescued Brenda Welch from the burning home. She was inside the garage and she was badly burned and lying in a pool of blood.

Welch, who suffered a serious head injury, doesn’t remember what happened to her on Nov. 16, 2014, jurors were told.

Morgan, 56, told detectives that he fell asleep in front of the television that evening and woke when someone struck him on the head. He next remembered seeing his ex-wife on fire downstairs. He told police he tried to pull off her burning sweater. He said he crawled out of the house and thought Welch was behind him.

“He doesn’t know what exactly happened. He knows he didn’t strike her and he didn’t set his house on fire,” public defender Donald Wackerman said in opening statements.

Prosecutors are blaming Morgan for Welch’s injuries and the fire. They believe what he did was attempted first-degree murder. He also is charged with assault and arson.

Jurors were shown a photograph of Welch before the night of the fire. They also were shown photographs of her in the hospital. She was on a ventilator. Her hair was gone and she was battered.

The defendant caused Welch, 46, to go from “blonde to burned, beautiful to beaten,” Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Paul Stern said. Morgan was motivated by greed, anger and disdain, he said.

Prosecutors allege that Morgan was unhappy paying monthly child support and didn’t want to hand over any more of his retirement to his ex-wife. If she was dead, he wouldn’t have to pay, Stern said.

Welch, who lived in Lake Stevens, planned to pick up their daughter at 7 p.m. that Sunday, as she did every week. Her daughter wasn’t with Morgan, though. He had dropped her off at his mother’s house.

Minutes after Welch arrived, Lynnwood firefighters were called to a fire at Morgan’s house. He stumbled out of the house and told firefighters Welch was inside.

Morgan claimed he was hurt, but paramedics found no injury, Stern said. They also didn’t find any signs that he’d been through a fire. His glasses were free of soot. He didn’t show signs of concussion, Lynnwood paramedic Joshua Peterson said.

Welch was severely injured. She had burns to more than 20 percent of her body. Her hair was matted with blood. She had a fractured skull, a broken nose and deep cuts to her head.

Those injuries didn’t match up with someone trying to escape a fire, Peterson said. The head wounds and fractured skull were more in line with an assault, he added.

Paramedics also noticed that Welch reeked of gasoline.

Lynnwood paramedic Kevin Miller testified Wednesday that he called his chief after taking Welch to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

“Something seemed out of place,” Miller said. “She smelled like gasoline had been poured directly on her.”

Prosecutors allege that Morgan set the fire.

The fire marshal didn’t determine what caused the fire but said he couldn’t rule out arson. Wackerman told jurors that’s an important distinction. The marshal can’t rule out arson as a cause, but he can’t say for certain that the blaze was intentionally set, Wackerman said.

Morgan didn’t smell of gasoline and investigators didn’t find a gas can at the scene, the defense attorney said.

The defendant’s story is inconsistent with evidence, Stern said. He told police he tried to pull Welch’s burning sweater off of her. His hands weren’t singed or burned.

Stern also pointed out Wednesday that Morgan’s car was packed with family photographs, keepsakes and income tax returns. His car was loaded with all the things a person wouldn’t want to lose in a house fire, Stern said.

He had a “desire to alter his life by ending hers,” he said.

The trial is expected to last at least a couple of weeks.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463, Twitter: @dianahefley.

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