State Rests Its Case in the "Big Bag of Crazy" Arson Trial with Explosive Recording
SAN ANGELO, TX -- "I didn't know 'Big Bag of Crazy' was going to wind up on San Angelo LIVE!" Chelsea Strube said to District Attorney Investigator Paul Dyer in a one-hour recorded interview played for jurors Thursday morning in the fourth day of her trial for arson.
Strube is accused of setting fire to a car in the Deadhorse bar parking lot on the night of Sept. 8, 2015. The Volkswagen sedan belonged to Strube's ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend.
In the wide ranging interview from the state's final witness, Strube describes the details of that night to detective Dyer in his office with her attorney Gonzalo Rios present.
Strube painted her ex-boyfriend, Benton Farnsworth, as a pathologic liar and womanizer. Farnsworth was on the witness stand Wednesday and was recalled briefly Thursday morning.
District Attorney Allison Palmer began by questioning Dyer about his investigation into the case. Dyer said one of the things he did was to go to the Texas Theatre and take pictures and measurements of the marquee where Strube told police she saw an intruder. After a thorough search that night including several police officers and a K-9 unit, no intruder was ever found.
Dyer testified that he and some firefighters measured the area above the marquee where Strube told officers she saw someone and the wall measured 5 feet 9 inches tall. A person would have to be taller than 5 feet 9 inches for a person to see a person up there from the ground.
Dyer said that during the interview, Strube said she was parked in the alley that night behind the Deadhorse where the arson took place.
Dyer explained that Strube said she was driving around downtown for a couple hours after she left the scene at the Texas Theatre to see if anyone was getting arrested there.
Then Palmer played the hour long audio of the interview Dyer had with Strube.
In the recording, Strube described how Farnsworth was the FedEx guy who delivered to the office where she worked. Strube is employed by San Angelo Attorney Stephanie Goodman who shares office space with local attorney Shawntell McKillop at 25 W. Beauregard Ave. next to the Stephens Central Library. Strube said she and Farnsworth began dating and he soon after moved in with her at her house in Veribest. Shortly there after, Strube caught Farnsworth cheating and they broke up. He moved out.
In the interview, Strube described the breakup as cordial at first then they had a fight over his dog.
The questioning then shifted to the night of Sept. 8, 2015. Strube said she was in town to buy dog food and she stopped by the office to check on some files for McKillop. That's when she saw the intruder at the Texas Theatre. At that point she called McKillop who advised her to call the police non-emergency number and report the intruder. Strube called and officers were on the scene almost immediately.
Strube told Dyer that she told officers on the scene that she could still see the guy's head above the 's' in Texas on the marquee. They spotlighted the marquee and could see no one, so they called the San Angelo Fire Department for a ladder. SAFD ladder 1 responded and had an extension ladder long enough to allow police to climb up to the top of the marquee. Officers found an open window but no intruder.
Strube says in the interview that she was released from the scene and drove around downtown San Angelo to see if officers arrested anyone. She said she ended up stopping in the alley half a block from the Deadhorse by Tarpley Music on Twohig St. so she could see the Texas Theatre to the left. "I drove around downtown a couple of times and ended up stopping in the alley by Tarpley's." Strube said.
Then her comments get interesting. "I seen her car once in a picture. It was in the parking lot at the Deadhorse. I pulled into the parking lot at the Deadhorse. I thought it was the Mercer's parking lot. Then I pulled into the alley to look back at the Texas Theatre. Someone texted me and I played a game on my phone. They didn't arrest anyone for one and a half or two hours so I drove home." Strube then said she drove home and soon afterwards deputies with the Tom Green County Sheriff's office arrived at her house.
She told detective Dyer that she was home long enough to take any matches or lighters out of her car but she didn't because she had done nothing wrong and didn't know why they were there until a deputy told her it was in connection with an arson investigation.
Strube admitted in the audio interview that she didn't allow the crime scene investigator to search her car at first. After she talked to McKillop on the phone, she agreed to allow authorities to search her car. Strube kind of waffled in the interview; she saId she was concerned about the matches and lighters and knives they would find.
Then comes the shocker in the recorded interview with detective Dyer.
Strube says the white shoulder bag with 'Big Bag of Crazy' stenciled on it contained workout clothes. Previous testimony had shown that the bag contained kitchen matches, latex gloves, three knives and other items photographed by Crime Scene Investigator Jessica Stevens and San Angelo Fire Marshall's office fire investigator Carla Steppe.
Strube said the investigators removed the clothing and planted the other items in the 'Big Bag of Crazy!'
In Strube's words, "She (Steppe) pulled out and rearranged things to look the way she wanted."
Strube told Dyer that the woman Crime Scene Investigator and deputies left early Wednesday with the evidence they had taken from her car. Friday, Strube said she was arrested, humiliated, put in hand cuffs and booked into jail.
It's at that point in the recorded interview Dyer said, "We all have the same goal; to find the truth."
Strube said the person who did this is out there getting away with it.
She then said something interesting, "I never met Shelby. She was a bartender at the Concho Pearl were Brendon and I had date nights. I never would've thought she was his type."
As the interview continued, jurors heard Strube say, "They are blaming me! (for the car fire) I told [San Angelo Fire Marshal] Ross Coleman I had nothing against her (Shelby)! I'm smart enough to know better than to do something like that."
Strube said in the audio that Farnsworth has convinced this girl and everyone else that, "I'm a crazy ex-girlfriend out to get Shelby." Strube's voice went higher; why six months after we broke up would I damage her car?"
Detective Dyer asked Strube if she ever did anything to her ex-boyfriend out of anger. Strube's answer was interesting.
She said, "The only thing mean or vindictive I did was when were fighting over the dog." She said Farnsworth was working at the Concho Pearl and she wanted him to get medication for his dog. Strube was taking care of his dog. She says he forgot for three days and his dog got really sick. Then Farnsworth got really mad about the way she was treating her dog.
Strube told Farnsworth she would stop by the Concho Pearl were he worked and pick up the dog's medicine. Strube says he went ballistic! She said Farnsworth told her that if she came to the Concho Pearl she would be arrested.
Strube on the audio said that the only thing she ever did bad was to post a negative comment on YELP about the Concho Pearl. She then said she later deleted that negative review.
Then the interview became a bit bizarre.
Dyer asked Strube for a list of names of ex-boyfriends who could provide information that when they broke up she was just a normal person.
Strube hesitated for a long time. She then gave Dyer one name. She sounded really evasive and said, "I didn't date anyone here."
She eventually gave Dyer four names of former boyfriends. After that, she said, "Brendon is a pathological liar. I haven't had the chance to tell anyone since this investigation began."
Strube told Dyer, "I can see how they (law enforcement) believe him (Farnsworth), he's sold that story (about Strube) to everyone."
After the audio ended, defense attorney Rios showed photos of the 'Big Bag of Crazy' to detective Dyer in an order that made it appear the bag contained clothing items and then was filled with matches and lighters and the other items.
Dyer said that he didn't know the order in which the photos were taken.
With that, Palmer rested the state's case.
Defense attorney Rios called his first witness before the jury; Cathy Phillips. Phillips testified she was a waitress at Buffalo Wild Wings in San Angelo when she met Farnsworth. They began dating and she was at his house when Strube showed up. Phillips testified that she didn't know Farnsworth had a girlfriend so she left the residence and they broke up two weeks later.
The next witness for the defense was San Angelo Police officer Raymond Francis. He testified he was the first officer on the scene at the Texas Theatre. Rios showed the jury two 15 minute dash cam videos from that night. Francis testified that a passerby contacted him and told him about the vehicle fire at the Deadhorse. Officer Francis called it in.
Other witnesses to testify Thursday included Strube's employer, attorney Stephanie Goodman and attorney Shawntell McKillop, Chelsea's father Roger Strube, and former San Angelo Fire Marshal Ross Coleman.
The defense is expected to call it's final witnesses Friday and rest it's case. The jury could begin deliberations in the guilt/innocence phase of the trial Friday.
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