Prall may testify, but judge issues warning about withheld evidence
TRENTON — Tormu Prall’s lawyer said he might take the stand in his own defense against charges he burned his sleeping brother to death in their Wayne Avenue home in 2007.
But if he does, the judge warned, the jury will hear that he admitted to a city detective he was inside the house when the place went up in flames the morning of Sept. 25, immolating John Prall and badly burning the brother’s girlfriend.
Mercer County Superior Court Judge Andrew Smithson outlined the risks after defense lawyer Michael Dawson told Assistant Mercer Prosecutor Renee Robeson during a recess.
“My advice is to testify,” Dawson said. “It’s the only way he can win.”
Dawson said it without the jury present.
Prall’s predicament brought to light information not previously disclosed by authorities and which, so far, the judge has ruled against having the jury hear.
In a hearing after yesterday’s testimony and dismissal of the jury, Smithson said Prall allegedly told city detectives when caught after 13 months on the run that he was at the house when the pre-dawn blaze started and burned his hands trying to make a rescue.
Until now, as close to the fire as anyone has placed Prall for the jurors is one block down from the flaming house on the corner of Wayne and Calhoun Street. Trash trucker Paul Bethea testified last week that he saw Prall down the street, at New Rose Street outside the city sanitation yard, staring up Calhoun toward his flaming family home at about 6:30 that morning.
In other testimony Monday, it came out from prominent pathologist Dr. Ian Hood of Philadelphia that breathing in fire is what killed John Prall and that the heat was so intense and “uniform” that much of the brother’s skin melted off his bones.
One of the pictures shown was of a baked “sock” of skin from the foot of the victim, who died on his fifth day in the burn unit at Temple University Hospital.
Mercer Detective Gary Wasko also testified that something more like lighter fluid or charcoal starter, not gasoline, was the accelerant used to create the inferno. He said it was put on the outside of the closed door and doorway of John Prall’s bedroom and inside the room on the floor about five feet from the bed.
Bethea and other witnesses last week testified that Tormu Prall repeatedly threatened to kill John Prall after the brother’s argued over household expenses and the suspect was kicked out of the house.
A girlfriend of the suspect said she refused to drive him to buy gasoline and investigators found a container holding fuel in a back room of house near a lighter and some of the flammable lubricant WD-40. But Wasko testified that they didn’t figure into this case.
The prosecution rested yesterday. Tuesday begins the defense in the trial that has reached its third week.