District attorney: Fire intentionally set

Published 1:13 am Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A jury heard opening arguments and witness testimony Tuesday in the case of Toshanna “Nikki” Fore, charged with setting a fire at a Spruce Avenue home last year that injured one of the residents and threatened three others.

Fore was charged with arson, attempted murder and criminal mischief in the case. District Attorney Steve Billy said in his opening statement that she was trying to get back at the ex-girlfriend of her fiance, with whom the man shared a child.

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Billy said the fire began in a car next to the house around 2:30 a.m. on April 26, 2010 —when Ashley Cooley, her daughter and her parents were in the house.

When firefighters and police arrived, they blocked off part of the street to fight the fire.

“Who do we see at the scene of the fire,” Billy said. “Ms. Fore was across the street in a neighbor’s driveway at that hour of the morning.”

Officers recognized Fore from court battles over her fiance’s daughter.

Fore’s fiance, Joey Nelson, had been arrested for DUI earlier in the evening and was in the county jail at the time of the fire, Billy said.

The fire came several days after Nelson and Fore had been in arguments with Cooley over the child’s welfare. Cooley did not want the girl to spend time with the couple because the girl had called home crying when she was at Nelson and Fore’s home and the couple would not wake up.

“(Fore’s) intent was to go up there and burn that house,” Billy said. “The evidence will show that the defendant is an extremely jealous person. She went to burn that house and get the ex out of the way.”

But defense attorney Kevin McKinley said his evidence will show a different story.

“What you’re going to hear is a story so fantastic, no one could create something so incredible,” McKinley said of the state’s case. “But there is a compelling story that played out and a horrific case that occurred. This is a puzzle with a piece missing, or a suit that doesn’t fit.

“What you’ve just heard is how you ask someone to throw a life away.”

McKinley said Fore had been abused as a teenager, an incident which “tormented her soul,” and that she was involved in an abusive relationship with Nelson.

“As it happens with many battered women, they latch on to anything anyone tells them,” McKinley said.

McKinley said his timeline varies from the state’s from the night of the fire and that he had an expert who would testify about what the fire looked like and how that differed from the state’s evidence.

McKinley also said the car in which the fire started was destroyed before the defense could examine it.

“This case is the epitome of reasonable doubt,” McKinley said.

But Billy told the jury that no one requested to examine the car and that the state did not “throw away state’s evidence.”

“It sounds like we’re going to have a blame game,” Billy said. “We’re going to blame everybody but the person responsible for the fire.”

Testimony is expected to continue for several days.