Terrance Hale declined Friday to take the stand in his defense against charges that he attacked an Omaha couple in their Florence home and set the fire that killed the elderly homeowner.
That didn't mean Hale wasn't heard in his first-degree murder trial.
Wrapping up their case, prosecutors played a TV station's unedited footage of reporters' jailhouse interview with Hale four days after the Feb. 7 fire that killed Raymond “Bob” Vasholz. Jurors are expected to begin deliberating Hale's fate on Monday.
In the wide-ranging interview, Hale stuck to his account that he never broke into the house but that he came across the fire, saved 76-year-old Betty Vasholz and then tried but couldn't save Bob Vasholz, 83.
Betty Vasholz testified Thursday that Hale was the assailant and arsonist — not the helping hand he claimed to be. She said Hale, who had done odd jobs for them, broke through a window in the basement of their home, demanded money, beat on them and set a fire.
Hale denied that in the TV interview played in court.
At one point in the interview, he called Bob Vasholz “a good friend of mines.” At another point, he said he didn't know the elderly man's name.
Hale, 30, who lived around the corner from the Vasholzes, said he was on his way to the bus stop when he saw smoke coming from a side door.
He said he rushed to the side door, helped Betty Vasholz out, wrapped his coat around her and escorted her to a neighbor's front porch.
Hale said he went back into the smoky house to see if he could help Bob Vasholz.
As he entered the side door, he said he was shoved.
“Somebody attacked me from behind,” he said.
That caused him to tumble down the stairs to the basement. There, he said, he punched out a window.
He then appeared to hedge. “It must have been a window already busted. . .cause I crawled out,” he said.
He said he called 911 and waved down a passerby to get help for the couple.
“Someone was in there,” he said. “I don't know who that person was. . .Police (came), attacked me and busted my nose.”
Hale's attorneys, Assistant Public Defender Scott Sladek and Doug Johnson, have suggested that police wrongly zeroed in on Hale.
The lawyers tried to pick away at Betty Vasholz's identification of Hale.
Under Sladek's questioning, Omaha police detective Scott Warner acknowledged that Betty Vasholz gave only a vague description of the person inside the house.
She described the intruder as a “young colored man, not big” — and said he had some sort of cap on, Warner testified.
No other witness has said Hale was wearing a cap.
Sladek also pointed out that Betty Vasholz specified that “the person outside” was Hale — a person she recognized from the time he mowed her lawn and scooped her sidewalk in years' past.
The defense attorney suggested Betty Vasholz jumped to the conclusion that the house intruder also was Hale.
“If it wasn't him (inside), he wouldn't be running by me (outside),” she told Warner.
Warner said Betty Vasholz made comments that the intruder must have been a neighbor because he knew how to get into the house, despite her and her neighbors' fences.
Prosecutor Jim Masteller countered that Betty Vasholz never wavered in saying that the person outside the house was the same as the person inside.
Even while suffering from burns and summoning help for her husband, she pointed straight to Hale as her attacker.
As testimony closed Friday, a coroner's physician detailed several bruises and severe burns to Bob Vasholz. Burns covered 10 percent to 18 percent of his body, Dr. David Jaskierny testified.
Vasholz died after inhaling soot, smoke and carbon monoxide from the fire, Jaskierny said.
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