OTTUMWA — Though the guilty verdict won’t bring back two young men killed in an arson fire, said the Wapello County Attorney, perhaps it is a little justice for family members.
Gary Oldenburger was co-prosecutor in the case of the State v. Christopher Yenger. On Tuesday, after the defense rested without calling any witnesses, the jury deliberated roughly three hours before coming back with a verdict: guilty on both counts, murder in the first degree.
They found Yenger guilty in the 2006 deaths of Nathan Messer and Seth Anderson. Both died of smoke inhalation, investigators said, after Yenger set the house on fire; one witness account says he used a bottle of gas with a flaming wick stuck in it: A Molotov cocktail.
The state says 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’s roommate, prosecutors said, was Zachary Dye, 28. At first, he had also been charged with two counts of murder. Prosecutors acknowledge it wasn’t Dye who lit the fire.
He accepted a deal that saw him convicted of aiding and abetting first-degree arson.
“This was a … senseless act,” Oldenburger said after the jury had been released and Yenger, denied bond by the judge, was taken back to jail.
Family members of the victims hugged and cried in the courtroom and in the hallway outside. They declined offers to be interviewed, but a representative said they’d work on a written statement.
The prosecutors had kept the large contingent of relatives in mind: During the setting of a date for sentencing, Assistant Attorney General Doug Hammerand asked if the judge would change the first sentencing date suggested.
He requested a date matching the sentencing of Zachary Dye, 28, so that the victims’ families wouldn’t have to make two trips to the Wapello County Courthouse.
The judge asked the defense if that would be acceptable to them. It would, they said. The judge agreed.
Sentencing in both cases will be April 10, beginning at 1:30 p.m. First-degree murder is a Class A felony, carrying a mandatory sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole.
Authorities arrested Yenger and Zachary Dye in early 2016.
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