Testimony in the trial of the man accused of killing two people almost a year ago by setting the box truck where they were sleeping on fire began Tuesday with a recording of the defendant’s 911 call.
John De St. Croix called Bangor police shortly before 10 p.m. March 28, 2018, and told Dispatcher Christopher Gilbert that a truck was on fire and that he believed two people were in it.
“It’s up in a blaze,” he said in the 911 call played on the first day of De St. Croix’s murder trial at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor.
Gilbert told the jury of 11 women and four men, including three alternates, that dispatch received multiple calls that night about a truck on fire in the Penobscot Plaza shopping center on Washington Street.
The dispatcher, who now works for the Maine State Police, testified that the first call about the fire came in from a LifeFlight pilot a few seconds before De St. Croix called.
De St. Croix, 26, of Bangor is accused of killing Michael Bridges, who was nicknamed Georgia after his native state, and Desiree York, two members of Bangor’s homeless community who were found later the night of March 28 in the back of the truck near the Penobscot Bridge.
[Deaths of two people found in burned truck are homicides, police say]
De St. Croix was still on the scene talking to a police officer when Bangor firefighter removed the bodies of Bridges, 43, and York, 36, from the truck. The firefighters unsuccessfully tried to resuscitate them.
In an interview with detectives several hours later, which was played for the jury Tuesday afternoon, De St. Croix said he heard banging from inside the truck and recognized the woman’s voice. He also told police he heard a man shouting for help, but the fire prevented him from unlocking the truck.
De St. Croix allegedly told police he intended to hurt Bridges, not York, but jurors will not hear that section of the interview. Attorneys agreed that the alleged confession took place after De St. Croix asked for an attorney.
The jury heard opening statements Tuesday morning before visiting the section of the shopping plaza where the crime allegedly took place. Superior Court Justice Ann Murray said after the site visit that she had pointed out the location of security cameras.
Video from those cameras will be presented during the trial, Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea said.
She told jurors in her opening statements that De St. Croix gathered cardboard from dumpsters behind the plaza businesses, placed them under the rear driver’s side tire and set it on fire.
“This man stood with his arms crossed and watched as the truck burned,” the prosecutor told the jury. “For 33 seconds, he watched as Georgia and Desi sought an escape from the interno that he caused. … And only after this man had watched as the flames grew and grew and then attended to the tool bags [found near the truck] did he finally call 911.”
Defense attorney David Bate of Bangor said the videos will show some things but not everything that happened that night.
[Subscribe to our free morning newsletter and get the latest headlines in your inbox]
“The state will rely very heavily on video that is only part of the story,” he said. “There’s so much we don’t know because of the lack of cameras. Sometimes, it’s more important what we don’t see than what the video is showing us.”
In cross-examining, police officers who spoke with De St. Croix at the scene, Bate repeatedly asked if they searched under the bridge and along the railroad tracks for other people who might have been involved. The answer was no.
De St. Croix has pleaded not guilty to one count each of intentional or knowing or depraved indifference murder, depraved indifference murder, arson and two counts of felony murder. Felony murder in Maine is defined as causing the death of another person while committing a crime such as arson, robbery, burglary or other illegal acts.
The Maine medical examiner’s office found that both died of asphyxiation, according to the prosecution.
The trial is scheduled to resume Wednesday morning with testimony from people who were with the victims the evening of the fire. The medical examiner also is expected to take the stand.
De St. Croix has been held without bail at the Penobscot County Jail in Bangor since his arrest March 30, 2018.
If convicted of murder, he faces between 25 years and life in prison. He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted of felony murder and/or arson.