OTTUMWA — A man who got punched at a party has been sentenced for returning to the scene and burning the house down, killing two people.
Christopher Yenger will serve life in prison without the possibility of parole. There are two counts, each with that life sentence, and they are listed by the judge as being “consecutive.” The trial and sentencing began approximately 10 years after the fire that caused the 2006 deaths of Nathan Messer and Seth Anderson.
The state said Yenger was mad that he got his nose bloodied in a fight at a house party in rural Wapello County. He talked to his roommate about wanting to “get back at” the partiers. Yenger set the house on fire; one witness account stated he used a bottle of gas with a flaming wick stuck in it: A Molotov cocktail.
Wapello County Attorney Gary Oldenburger was co-prosecutor in the case. The jury deliberated only about three hours before coming back with a verdict: guilty on both counts, murder in the first degree. Punishing their sons’ killer, Oldenburger said, may allow some small sense of justice for the families.
“This was a … senseless act,” Oldenburger told the Courier on the day the guilty verdict had come in.
There was virtually no question what the sentence would be: It’s a mandatory life sentence for murder in the first degree. In mid-February, the families of both victims offered a joint written statement. It thanked law enforcement, as well as victim advocates.
“We are all blessed with the safety net of family and friends. Those who reached out, and picked us up when the boys died, and then later when we learned they were murdered. You lifted us up and didn’t let us back down. We’d like to think that Seth and Nate are looking down on us and smiling about that.” The letter was signed by Dennis and Marty Anderson, and Mel and Jolynn Messer. It also acknowledged the prosecutors: “They made sure that the people who committed this crime were held accountable.”
Yenger’s roommate, prosecutors said, was Zachary Dye, 28. At first, he had also been charged with two counts of murder in the 2006 fire. He accepted a deal that saw him convicted of aiding and abetting first-degree arson. Prosecutors then acknowledged it wasn’t Dye who lit the fire. His sentence, read the same day, is 25 years in prison.
Law enforcement arrested Yenger and Zachary Dye in 2016, roughly 10 years after the murders took place.
Reporter Mark Newman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @couriermark.