CATLETTSBURG Jurors will have quite a bit to ponder once they go into deliberations, especially after the second day of a trial of an Ashland man accused of murdering his mother in 2018.
Christopher Childers, 36, stands accused of killing his mother, Ruby, in a Sept. 6, 2018, house fire on Gallaher Drive. The state's theory of the case is that Childers bound his mother on a chair prior to setting the blaze, while the defense has indicated the cause of the blaze may have been a cigarette mixing with a home oxygen tank.
Multiple family members have testified that at the time of the fire, Ruby Childers was smoke-free for three years, following some health conditions she developed in 2015.
The case lacks much physical evidence — accelerant was not detected on objects collected at the scene, as one analyst testified and Ruby's remains were charred to such an extent medical examiners could not determine whether or not she was alive when the fire started.
A purse strap and telephone cord was found wrapped around the Ruby Childers’ legs — medical examiner Sarah Maines testified that she believed Ruby had been bound. However, under cross examination, Maines said the ligatures did not have knots, nor were they cinched.
On Wednesday, Christopher Childers’ sister took the stand in an emotional round of testimony. The sister said in 2016-17, her brother's relationship with their mother soured. Her mother was also scared of Christopher — an aunt testified earlier that in the past Chris had threatened to kill and dismember his sister and decapitate one of his cousins.
One source of contention in the relationship was Chris believing he had won anywhere between $500,000 to $5 million from Publisher's Clearing House, the sister testified. She testified Chris believed she and her mother had stolen his winnings.
Christopher Childers never won a prize from Publisher's Clearing House, according to court testimony.
Chris, according to the testimony from a physician’s assistant at King's Daughter's Medical Center, had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. On the morning of the fire, he was evaluated for mental health issues prior to going to lock-up — during that evaluation, a drug screening revealed he had ingested methamphetamine.
According to at least two family members, Christopher Childers had a problem with meth, which can produce psychotic states.
Whatever the cause of his mental issues, Childers had to be involuntarily committed multiple times under the Kentucky 202A laws. According to Boyd County Attorney paralegal Lucretia Smithers, Ruby Childers had applied for — and was granted — four involuntary commitments of Christopher Childers between December 2017 and August 2018.
Just two days prior to the blaze that would take her life, Smithers said Ruby visited her office to discuss getting a guardianship over her son.
On the morning of the fire, Boyd County deputy Dusty Childers (a first cousin) heard over the scanner that Christopher had been picked up walking barefoot down U.S. 23 in Catlettsburg, telling officers his home was on fire.
Deputy Childers, who admittedly hadn't been close to Ruby and her side of the family for 14 years prior to the fire, went to go check the scene out. The deputy testified he picked up Childers' sister then rushed her to the scene to assist with finding her mother. At the scene, an Ashland Police lieutenant asked Dusty to go down to KDMC to ask Christopher where his mother might be.
“I was mainly concerned about her safety,” the deputy testified. “I had the two officers staying with him stand outside of the room while I talked with him so he would be more comfortable.”
The first go-around, Christopher told his cousin “she's not with us anymore.” Deputy Childers went back to the scene to help search the woods behind the house, in case Ruby had made it back there and gotten lost.
He then went back to the hospital to question Christopher again.
“He stated to me, 'Dust, I burned her up. I got tired of being a slave.' He said the voices in his head told him to do it and he was tired of going to the hospital to get shots,” deputy Childers told the court.
On the third go-around, deputy Childers said he got upset at the situation — at this point, no one knew where Ruby was. That's when Christopher said she was “sitting on Mary's Chair” — the name given to a recliner given to the family by a neighborhood woman who as like a grandmother.
And that's where fire investigators turned up Ruby's remains, according to court testimony.
Throughout the trial, it has been evident that the hurt and loss suffered by the victim’s family continues to this day. Ruby has been described as a soft-spoken, funny and honest woman, a woman of God and faith.
The effect on the family has bubbled up on the stand — tears have flowed and at times Judge John Vincent has had to remind the jury only to consider the charges of murder and arson at hand, not other bad acts brought in the testimony.
Ruby's sister said the tragedy of that day haunts her to this day.
“I live with this every day of my life. I have nightmares every night of my life,” she said.
Christopher's sister said “losing everything is an understatement.”
“We lost it all. I can't pick up my phone to call my brother about something, I can't call my mom to talk about what we're making for Christmas dinner. I know my mom was in that house and I watched her burn,” she said.
“How do I explain that to the kids? How do I explain to the kids they can't see their uncle?”
Towards the end of the day, tempers began to flare as well — Vincent lightly admonished public defender Brian Hewlett after the attorney became frustrated with the sister “editorializing her testimony.” After multiple sidebars, the testimony concluded and the jury was sent home for the evening.
The case will resume at 9 a.m on Thursday. Vincent said he hopes to have the case to deliberation by then.