Hours after her 18-month-old son died in a fire, Ashley Conroy told an investigator that the child’s aunt was going to be upset because she had “killed her nephew.”
The investigator also said she said she had left the child alone in a one-room apartment while she was in another building.
Sgt. David Claridge, of the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, described Conroy’s statement before a jury Tuesday during the 23-year-old woman’s trial before Judge Gary Tabor in Thurston County Superior Court.
Conroy was charged with manslaughter after the November 2014 death of her son, William Bradsnyder.
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The trial began Monday, with jury selection and opening statements. On Tuesday, Deputy Prosecutor Craig Juris called his first two witnesses: Claridge and Det. Jamie Gallagher, who work for the Sheriff’s Office.
Claridge, who was a detective at the time of William’s death, told the jury that he received a call from a supervisor at about 5 a.m. Nov. 3, 2014, asking him to respond to a scene at 7030 Steamboat Island Road. He arrived about 30 minutes later.
Gallagher, who served as lead investigator in the case, arrived a short time later.
Both investigators described the condition of the property. Claridge said the main structure was a double-wide mobile home. The fire had occurred in an outbuilding, which appeared to be a converted shop or garage.
The outbuilding contained two apartments. Conroy and William slept in the smaller one, while William’s aunt and her boyfriend lived in the larger one.
“The biggest thing that grabbed my attention was that this property was in disarray,” Claridge said.
He said there was so much clutter outside that he had a hard time walking around the burned building.
Gallagher said several cars were parked on the property and there was a large pile of household garbage near the burned building.
She said that when she left home to respond to the call, William was presumed dead, but his body hadn’t been found. Firefighters found him shortly after she arrived, she said.
Gallagher entered the home briefly after firefighters extinguished hot spots. She said she couldn’t see William the first time she entered — the room was filled with too much debris.
She entered again a short time later and saw the child under a desk. Gallagher said only parts of him were visible, because the top surface of the desk had crumbled and fallen on top of him.
“I could see his backside, his buttock portion, with one leg extended,” Gallagher said. “The rest was covered in debris.”
She said firefighters found an electric grill about 2 feet from the child. It was unplugged and the cord extended to the child’s foot.
An electric grill was identified as the source of the fire by Chief Steve North of the McLane-Black Lake Fire Department, she said.
“My understanding was that it had been unplugged (when firefighters were inside) or when (William) was crawling around,” Gallagher said.
Attorney Sunni Ko, who represents Conroy, pointed out that Gallagher never collected the grill as evidence.
She asked Gallagher whether she had asked an expert to examine the wiring in the outbuilding. Gallagher said no, because she had been told that the grill caused the fire.
Meanwhile, Claridge followed Conroy to Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia, where he conducted a taped interview. He said that when he entered the room where Conroy was being treated, she had bandages covering portions of her face.
He said Conroy told him that she, the child, and her then-boyfriend — William’s father— had gone out that evening. She and William returned to the Steamboat Island Road residence between 2:30 and 3 a.m. and they went to bed in the outbuilding.
Conroy told him she heated the room with a heater, which she turned off when she went to sleep, Claridge said.
Conroy said she woke up about 40 minutes later and went inside the mobile home to use the bathroom, according to Claridge. She stayed inside the home, and sat at the table to eat a piece of cake and talk to one of the residents.
Conroy told the detective she then heard the couple who lived in the other apartment, and “it wasn’t sounding right,” Claridge said. She tried to enter the room through the front door and a window, but was burned.
“You could tell that being burned and seeing her residence fully involved in flames was a traumatizing experience for her,” Claridge said.
He said that the interview ended, and he turned off the recorder.
Conroy then told him that William’s aunt would be upset with her because “she had killed her nephew,” Claridge said.
Conroy was then transported to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle so that third-degree burns on her face could be treated. Claridge said he followed Conroy to Harborview, then transported her to the Thurston County Jail when she was released.
Ko asked Claridge if he had turned his recorder back on and asked Conroy to repeat her final statement. Claridge said he didn’t.
“The recorder was off. It was a spontaneous comment that was made to me,” Claridge said. “I notated it.
“In my experience, when I’ve tried to do that, it hasn’t worked,” he said.
The trial resumed early Wednesday, with Juris calling four witnesses who lived at 7030 Steamboat Island Road. Zindy Carter, her boyfriend Gary Hanson, and her brother Russell Vant lived in the mobile home on the property. Raven Carter, Zindy Carter’s daughter, lived in the larger apartment in the converted shop with her daughter and boyfriend.
Zindy Carter said that Conroy had been dating her son, Vaughn Bradsnyder, and William was her son’s child. Raven Carter identified herself as Bradsnyder’s brother and William’s aunt.
Vant told the jury he had been playing video games in the bedroom when the fire started, and he attempted to extinguish it with a garden hose.
Juris and Ko asked the other three witnesses about what Conroy used to heat her apartment.
Zindy Carter said she wasn’t aware of what Conroy had been using for heat — she usually entered the room during the day when it was warmer outside. But she said Raven Carter had previously heated her apartment with a grill.
Raven Carter said that she heated her own apartment with space heaters and had occasionally used a “little barbecue grill” as a heat source. Juris showed her a photo of a grill taken at the scene, and she recognized it as the one she had used as a heater.
She said she had never seen the grill in use in Conroy’s apartment, but she had seen it sitting on the floor. Raven Carter said that she told Conroy about three weeks before the fire not to use the grill as a heater.
Ko said that during an interview, Raven Carter had told a defense investigator that Conroy had one or two space heaters, but she didn’t believe they were working. Raven Carter said Wednesday she had seen her brother, Bradsnyder, taking the heaters apart.
Raven Carter cried throughout the interview, and said that what happened during and after the fire was “a haze.”
“My house burned down, my nephew died and I lost everything I worked my whole life for,” Raven Carter said. “That’s all that matters.”
Gary Hanson told the jury that he is renting to own the property at 7030 Steamboat Island Road, and he had told Conroy and Raven Carter not to use the baseboard heaters in the converted shop. He said both apartments were cluttered and he feared that the baseboard heaters would cause a fire.
“(The building) was cluttered from one end to the other ... inside and outside,” Hanson said.
He said he only entered Conroy’s apartment about once a month. A few weeks before the fire, he saw the grill sitting on a dresser in her room.
Hanson said he removed it and placed it on the garbage pile outside the building. He testified that he wasn’t aware it had been removed from the pile until after the fire was extinguished.
Testimony is expected to continue into next week.