Jury deliberations are under way in the child neglect trial of a Del City tow truck driver whose three children died in a fire in a locked recreational vehicle.
Christopher Dunham was at work when the fire started inside a motor home behind his mother's house. His wife, Stephanie Dunham, told authorities she was inside the house when the fire began. She has pleaded no contest to criminal charges in the case.
Killed in the Jan. 4, 2011, fire were Christopher L. Dunham, 4; Crystal Ann Dunham, 3; and Kailey Mae Dunham, 1.
Experts for both sides testified the cause of the fire was undetermined.
In their closing arguments Thursday, prosecutors said the defendant was well aware of his wife's drug use and bipolar condition. They argued that he knew about the lock on the door because he replaced it himself and acknowledged locking the kids in the RV on occasion to “get away.”
“We're going to hold you responsible,” Oklahoma County Assistant District Attorney Pamela Stillings told the defendant. “It's neglect.”
Christopher Dunham, prosecutors added, was “put on notice” by neighbors who said the kids ran around unattended and their mother “roughed them up.”
“He knew those kids were locked in that motor home,” Assistant District Attorney SuAnne Carlson said. “Those children had no way to exit that inferno.”
Carlson dismissed claims by defense attorney Robert Sisson that the motor home door was unlocked on the day of the fire, even though a fire investigator testified Dunham told him it was.
“Locked or not, those children were unable to get out,” she said. “This was an accident, but their negligence caused that accident.”
Dunham also was charged with possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia, both misdemeanors, and possession of methamphetamine in the presence of a child under 12, a felony.
One neighbor testified that she smoked marijuana with the couple, and glass pipes with marijuana and methamphetamine residue on them were found near where the children slept inside the motor home.
A Department of Human Services worker who paid the couple a visit two months before the fire testified that Christopher Dunham told her he was worried about his wife's drug use, and admitted using marijuana and methamphetamine. She said the defendant told her he smoked pot after several months of sobriety.
Dunham's attorney called the fire a tragic accident and reminded jurors the children's father was not at home when it happened.
Sisson painted his client as a “loving, caring father” who lived for his children, and said he couldn't possibly be expected to know what his wife was doing at all times.
“What he knew is his wife took good care of his kids,” the attorney said.