GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Robert Scales took the stand in a Kent County courtroom, portraying himself as an innocent man.
“Did you have anything to do with the fire at your house?” defense attorney Anthony Greene asked. “When you went there at midnight, had you done anything to start the fire at your house?”
“No, sir,” Scales said.
Scales took the stand in his own defense Thursday morning during his trial for involuntary manslaughter.
It was just after midnight Feb. 5, 2020, when he got the call: His house was on fire. He said he knew his wife and the three boys that made up their family would be home, probably sleeping. He said he rushed home.
“My initial reaction was trying to run in the front door, then the firefighter told me to get back,” Scales told jurors.
Inside the home on Dawes Avenue SE, in the area of 28th Street and Kalamazoo Avenue, Scales’ wife Wanedia Scales, 35, and her son Xavier Woldeab, 15, were dead. Scales’ sons Robert Scales, Jr., 14, and Elijah Scales, 10, died later at the hospital. All four died of smoke inhalation, the Kent County medical examiner testified Wednesday.
Robert Scales came under suspicion after court records revealed his wife had filed for a personal protection order against him, claiming he threatened to burn down their home and kill her and the boys. But prosecutors said they didn’t have evidence to prove Scales intended to hurt anyone.
Instead, he was charged with involuntary manslaughter for starting a fire in a burn pit just yards from the home earlier in the day. Investigators say a fire in that pit — used to burn material Scales had collected as part of his junk removal business — spread to the home.
But on the stand, Scales said the burn pit had been out for several hours before the house caught fire. Earlier reports said an old box spring was found between the pit and the home, something else Scales denied under cross-examination by Assistant Kent County Prosecutor Dan Helmer.
“So it’s your testimony today that it wasn’t between the house and the fire pit?” Helmer asked.
“Feb. 4th when I left? No,” Scales replied.
Questions were also raised under cross-examination about why the pit was less than 6 feet from the home.
“I didn’t make that decision,” Scales answered under questioning from the prosecutor.
“But you didn’t move it, did you?” Helmer asked.
“No, sir,” Scales said.
There were no working smoke detectors in the home at the time of the fire. Scales said some were taken down during home renovations.
“Once we were done with the renovations, our plan was to replace the smoke detectors with new ones,” Scales said.
The jury is expected to get begin deliberations in the case Friday morning. If convicted, Scales could be sentenced to 15 years in prison.