Victim describes watching house burn at Nacogdoches arson trial

Steven Skidmore. (Source: Nacogdoches County Jail.)
Steven Skidmore. (Source: Nacogdoches County Jail.)

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - The trial of a Nacogdoches man accused of burning his ex-girlfriend's house to the ground began with the victim describing the night her house burned. The image of her home engulfed by flames is very much still on the mind of Tammy Gilbert.

Today Gilbert testified her then boyfriend, Steven Skidmore, 47, was fighting with her for going to a Christmas party hosted by her boss, Lisa King.

"And they hadn't been there very long and one of the other girls came running in and she was hysterical and said, Tammy your house is on fire," said King. The day care owner is not a witness in the case, but is in the courtroom for the support of her employee.

Today Gilbert is convinced Skidmore torched her home out of anger, something she had a difficult time believing with certainty a year and a half ago. Skidmore was at her side as she watched the house burn down.

"There was talk that he was seen leaving my home and then there was a fire on my porch. But still, how do you--how, how do you have somebody do that to you?", said Gilbert in a news interview the day after the fire.

Neighbors provide insight to what they saw and heard the evening the fire began.

Debra Young "saw activity" of someone standing in front of Gilbert's door, but couldn't make out if it was a man or a woman.  She saw no automobiles.

Richard Riggins had a small brush fire going. He says on the windless day he heard Skidmore's distinctively loud truck "leave in a hurry".  Shortly afterwards Riggins saw a spark. The 911 callers closer investigation revealed a fire at the front porch and door.

Neither neighbor could truthfully say they saw Skidmore ignite a fire. That alone could lead a juror to reasonable doubt.

"She feels certain she knows what the outcome should be, but of course, it will go to the jury," said King.

In search of evidence, Gilbert and her step brother Brian DeValcourt, who is also Skidmore's step brother, entered Skidmore's camper home while he was in jail. They testified  finding under his bed the clothes Skidmore kept at Gilbert's house before the fire, as well as some food she had at her home.

The trial recessed this afternoon. Testimony will resume Tuesday at 9 a.m. Arson investigators are expected to explain why they think the fire was intentionally set.

Earlier Today

The trial of a Nacogdoches man accused of burning his ex-girlfriend's house to the ground began with the victim describing the night her house burned. Steven Lynn Skidmore, 47, is on trial on an arson charge in District Judge Ed Klein's courtroom. He is accused of burning the house of Tammy Gilbert on Dec. 17, 2010, because he did not want her attending a Christmas party.

Gilbert said Monday morning that Skidmore showed up at her property after the fire has started and asked if she was all right. "No I'm not the hell all right," Gilbert said she told Skidmore.

Gilbert also said she was at Skidmore's camper a couple weeks after the fire and found some clothes he kept at her house under his bed.

Later Monday morning, Klein excused a juror after the juror discovered she had knowledge of the victim and her mother. One of the alternate jurors was made a permanent one.

Two neighbors also testified Monday morning. One said she saw someone at the door of Gilbert's house doing something shortly before the fire sparked. Another said he heard Skidmore's truck leave right before noticing the fire. He said he did not see Skidmore set the fire.

Copyright 2012 KTRE. All rights reserved.