On Feb. 7, Terrance Hale was desperate.
Desperate to rob his neighbors?
Or desperate to save his neighbors?
Prosecutors and a defense attorney gave competing versions in closing arguments Monday -- alternately describing him as a controlling, conniving killer or a would-be hero.
Deputy Douglas County Attorney Beth Beninato said Hale wanted money when he broke into his elderly neighbors' house and, rebuffed in his demands for money, set a fire that killed 83-year-old Raymond "Bob" Vasholz.
In addition to his wife Betty Vasholz's description of Hale as the attacker, Beninato pointed to Hale's injuries. She noted two scrapes to his nose -- which she said were consistent with Hale breaking through a tiny basement window.
She also noted a large scrape and bruise to Hale's back -- consistent, she said, with Betty Vasholz hitting him with a brass lamp.
Beninato noted that Hale had spoken with a neighbor that morning about his need to get a job.
"Why go to the bus station and look for a job when you have a free ATM machine. . . right in front of you," Beninato argued. "They're vulnerable. They're elderly. They have money. And they're right there."
Hale's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Scott Sladek, said Hale was in the right place at the right time. On his way to the bus stop from his mother's house around the corner.
Sladek noted that firefighters arrived to find Hale waving them down. One paramedic said he had to remove a coat -- Hale's coat -- from around Vasholz's shoulder.
He questioned whether Betty Vasholz -- a woman "in shock" -- could accurately identify her attacker.
Vasholz repeatedly identified him as Hale in the court.
He noted that she described the intruder to police by saying he was black and as wearing a hat. No one else described Hale wearing a hat.
Asked who was the intruder, Vasholz at one point told police, "whoever." Asked later if she could describe him, she told police: "Not really."
He also noted that no DNA evidence links Hale to the scene. To that, Beninato pointed out that investigators found gloves in the front yard -- gloves that concealed Hale's identity.
However, Sladek pointed out that the gloves had no burn marks or singes or soot -- from an attacker who supposedly started multiple fires by lighting paper and cushions.
Sladek pointed to another black man who was seen on camera at the scene. The man's DNA was not tested against items at the scene.
"She assumes the black male who was outside is the same as the black male inside," Sladek said. "Good people sometimes make mistaken identifications. It's naive to think that there couldn't have been another party that brutally attacked Elizabeth and Raymond Vasholz and got away."
Prosecutors countered by pointing to Hale's statements in interviews with news media. In a jailhouse interview four days after the fire, he said he helped Betty Vasholz out of the house.
He said he then returned inside to try to help save Bob Vasholz. He said he was then pushed down the stairs by an unknown party and punched out a basement window to escape the smoke-filled house.
Prosecutors suggested Hale added to his story to try to account for details at the scene -- details only he knew.