Wallace returns to stand in arson, stabbing trial | TheUnion.com

Wallace returns to stand in arson, stabbing trial

By Robyn Moormeister

Staff writer

Arson and stabbing victim Susan Wallace wept on the stand this morning as she testified she had begged emergency workers to rescue her dogs from her burning house one year ago.

Wallace concluded her second day of testimony in Nevada County Superior Court this morning in the trial of Fred Engel, the man accused of slashing her throat and splashing $60 worth of gasoline around her Nevada City home before setting it ablaze on the night of May 7, 2005.

Wallace’s eyes filled with tears as she told jurors she remembered saying to the emergency responders treating her, “Please, get my dogs out.” Wallace then dried her eyes with a tissue.

Vernon Canon, investigator for the Nevada County Consolidated Fire District, had earlier testified that he found the remains of two of Wallace’s four dogs, Scooter and Molly, in the charred rubble of the house.

“He killed my dogs, burned my house down and slashed my throat,” Wallace said of the defendant. “The only reason I lived was God, pure luck and a great trauma team.”

Defense lawyer Stephen Munkelt of Nevada City cross-examined Wallace briefly, focusing on her contact with Engel’s then-employer, ChemDry of the Gold Country, in the days before the crime.

Engel had cleaned the carpets in Wallace’s house, but Wallace had called the company back to say he had not taken some rugs with him to be cleaned there.

Under cross-examination, Wallace said she had talked to office manager Susan Evans who, according to Wallace, “seemed to be grumpy.”

Wallace said she had tried to diffuse the tension in the conversation because she didn’t want Evans to be grumpy with Engel.

“I remember thinking, ‘I’m never using this company again,’ which of course is true now,” Wallace said, prompting jurors to break out in laughter. But Wallace went on to say she did not express those feelings to Evans.

In other matters, Judge Robert Tamietti excused a juror and seated one of the alternates, saying the juror had improperly communicated with a witness on Tuesday.

The juror, a woman, had seen the witness at a restaurant during the lunch break and had offered the seat next to her.

“I’m convinced it’s a completely innocent social interaction, but it’s not proper and it violates the court order,” Tamietti said at the beginning of the morning’s proceedings. “I try to run a friendly courtroom, but this is not a normal social situation. We have certain rules. They are not flexible.”

Munkelt is expected to call witnesses for the defense later today.


To contact staff writer Robyn Moormeister, e-mail robynm@theunion.com or call 477-4236.

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