GREENVILLE — A Pitt County man charged with murder says his girlfriend set herself on fire before shooting herself in the head.
State investigators testified in N.C. Superior Court on Thursday that the charred remains of 51-year-old Teresea Derr Foster contained gasoline.
Foster's body was found in 2009 behind a home she shared with her 57-year-old fiancé Clinton Arthur Ridenour north of Greenville. A sheriff's detective says a red gasoline can was found on the couple's front porch swing.
Ridenour is charged with the first-degree murder and faces life in prison without parole if he is convicted. Ridenour maintains his innocence and says Foster's fatal injuries were self-inflicted.
Soil samples taken from the scene also contained the presence of the accelerant, said Charles McClelland Jr., deputy assistant director of the crime laboratory in Raleigh.
The burned body of 51-year-old Teresea Derr Foster was found on Aug. 22, 2009, behind the Stokes-area home she shared with her fiance, Clinton Arthur Ridenour. A Pitt County Sheriff’s Office detective said this week that the body smelled of gasoline and a red gas can was found on the front porch swing.
Ridenour, 57, maintains that Foster set herself on fire and then shot herself near a shed at the 500 block of Sweet Gum Grove Church Road. He is charged with first-degree murder and faces life in prison without parole if convicted.
Detective David Whitley testified on Wednesday that he delivered evidence to the SBI for analysis.
The evidence included four soil samples from the left and right of Foster’s body, two samples from beneath her body, the red gas can, charred cloth, Foster’s hair and shoes, a charred aerosol can, the body bag and other items.
McClelland testified Thursday that the laboratory received the evidence on Sept. 3, 2009. He said he began examining those items on Oct. 5, 2009, for any type of accelerant.
Through that analysis, McClelland said he concluded there was a presence of residual gasoline among the soil samples, which also contained leaves and other debris, as well as the charred cloth, shoes and the gas can.
The presence of residual gasoline indicates “some of the gas has evaporated away,” McClelland said.
“From the time it comes from the pump, it starts to evaporate,” he said. “Once it starts to evaporate, it would technically be residual.”
Evaporation also can occur even when gasoline is kept in a sealed container, but to a lesser extent, he said.
The other evidence items could not be analyzed for the presence of an accelerant as they were not correctly packaged, he testified. The hair was in a clear plastic bag, and the aerosol can was submitted in a brown paper bag.
Those types of containers are not suitable for holding accelerants, he said, explaining that only gallon-sized paint cans, nylon bags or Mason jars are suitable for evidence in arson investigations.
When evidence first is opened from sealed packages to analyze the presence of an accelerant, an SBI agent conducts a smell test and documents whether there is an accelerant odor, McClelland said.
Ridenour’s attorney, Jon Nuckolls, asked McClelland during cross-examination if he made note of any smell of accelerant among the evidence.
Of the four soil samples from the left and right of Foster’s body, one had the smell of gasoline, McClelland testified. Both samples from beneath the body smelled of accelerant, he said.
The charred cloth, shoes and body bag had no odor of accelerant, McClelland said.
“All of these items came to you in sealed containers, is that correct?” Nuckolls asked, noting the exception of those items that had been incorrectly packaged.
“That’s correct,” McClelland said.
The defense attorney asked McClelland if he knew from his analysis when the residual gasoline would have first been present in the evidence, and the SBI official said he did not.
Nuckolls asked if he could explain how the accelerant came to be present or who may have been responsible for the residual gasoline among the soil and other items.
“No, sir,” McClelland said.