'An intentional human act': Day 2 of Risinger murder, arson trial

Staff Writer Kate Wehlann

This photo, taken 13 hours after the fire was said to have begun, shows the damage to the west side of the trailer.

The Washington County Circuit Court recessed for the evening Tuesday after watching video of the second interview police conducted with murder and arson suspect Joshua Risinger, 29, Salem, but picked up the third Wednesday morning. In the first interview, Risinger told Indiana State Police Detective Matt Busick he had killed Jefferey Givan, 62, and set the trailer on fire to exorcise a demon.

Busick told Risinger on the video he had been to visit the woman police believed to have been victim Givan’s estranged wife, who told investigators Givan had a limp and was disabled. She also told them about the flowery cane and confirmed he did frequent at Slimo’s Bar. She told Busick Givan had displayed gay or bisexual tendencies and Busick introduced a “theme,” or moral justification whether the investigator believes it or not, in the interview, asking Risinger if Givan had pressured him sexually, leading to Risinger killing him. It soon became apparent the demon Risinger had been referring to previously might have had something to do with homosexuality.

“He caused a crime against you in a biblical sense,” Busick told Risinger. “You’re a God-fearing man … No one else will have to worry about that now … You saw him at Slimo’s and started talking to him about God … Before you got the demon out of him, it got ahold of you, didn’t it? … Joshua’s a victim here. Am I right?”

“Yes,” Risinger replied. “… He was trying to consume me. He was trying to make me what he was, so I could consume other people.”

Risinger told Busick he had given Givan blankets and let him sleep on his couch, then left and wandered around town. When he returned, he said he saw stickers on his door that weren’t there before. As to whether Givan made any advances on Risinger, Risinger claimed Givan never touched him. He was silent for several moments after Busick asked him what Givan did.

“He wanted to touch me,” Risinger said. “… He wanted me to follow him and do what he wanted me to do … I didn’t go to that point … He just wanted me to be a f*****, excuse my language … He tried to make me the gay one … He basically wanted me to follow his directions completely, but I kept pulling back from him.”

“What words did he use?” asked Busick.

“Nothing,” Risinger replied. “I don’t have much more to say.”

He then mentioned a nephew who may have been “touched” by the “demon,” but Busick brought the conversation back to Risinger.

“He was trying to consume me, point blank,” Risinger said.

“He tried to touch you?”

“He tried, but I kept my distance. I knew I had to keep my distance.”

“The only way to stop him was to kill him?” Busick asked later in the interview.

“Correct,” said Risinger. “Or it wouldn’t stop … I had to break the curse.”

When Busick asked Risinger again what Givan had done to threaten him or “consume” him, Risinger just said he was done talking.

Risinger’s attorney, David Smith, asked Busick why, despite Risinger saying multiple times during the course of the three interviews shown to the court that he was done talking, Busick continued to ask questions. Busick replied he assumed Risinger was saying he was done answering that particular question and that Risinger never asked for an attorney.

Smith asked other questions, trying to determine when investigators may have thought Risinger was mentally ill. He asked if it was common for people to remove their shirt during an interview, which Risinger had done to show his tattoos, which he said were indicative of his “mission.” Busick said it wasn’t necessarily common, though people did frequently show their tattoos. He said he believed at least some of the strange behavior he witnessed from Risinger to be an act.

“I believe he was being truthful, but looking for an excuse,” Busick said.

Smith continued to come back to the question of why Busick continued questioning Risinger when he said he was done talking until Washington County Prosecutor Dustin Houchin objected, saying Judge Larry Medlock had already ruled Busick didn’t violate Risinger’s Miranda rights. Houchin said Risinger could have simply remained silent, but continued answering questions.

The court also heard from Tyler Davidson, who had been friends with Risinger for about six months at the time of the fire. He said he mainly spent time with Risinger at the Salem Tattoo shop, where Davidson worked as an apprentice. He said on March 14, 2017, the day of the fire, he saw Risinger that morning at the shop. They talked about Risinger having a homeless man staying at his trailer for a few days. Davidson said Risinger told him Givan was “acting off, kind of weird.”

Davidson gave Risinger a ride home later that evening, around 6:30 p.m.

“He was real calm, not the normal Josh I knew,” he said. “… He talked real slow … His eyes were red. I’d never seen that before … He said he wanted to get that guy out of his house. He said he was just real weird-acting, not normal.”

When they arrived at Risinger’s trailer in Southway Villa, Davidson said Risinger asked him if he should call the police to help him get him out.

“I said, ‘absolutely,’” Davidson said. “He asked, ‘Do you think I should kill him?’ and I said no. He asked if he should just burn the house down. I said no and asked if he wanted to go back to the shop.”

Davidson said Risinger got out of the car and looked in the windows before going inside. He said he waited in the car, watching Risinger and smoking a cigarette for about 20 to 25 minutes before hearing something smash. He got out and looked in the open front door and said he saw an older man on the couch, who looked like he’d just woken up. He later said he saw objects on the floor in the living room, including a broken lamp, something he said was out of place for the trailer.

“I asked Josh what was going on and Josh said, ‘Nothin’, just hanging out … You can go ahead and leave.’”

So that’s what Davidson did, heading back to the tattoo parlor until someone came in and told him about the fire. He left the tattoo shop and went back to the scene of the fire, where he spoke with an officer who sent him to the Washington County Sheriff’s Department to speak with Busick.

The court then heard from Indiana State Police Crime Scene Investigator Merritt Toomey, who arrived at the scene and went through the burnt trailer with Indiana State Fire Marshal Clayton Kinder.

“There was a large amount of fire damage,” said Toomey. “Everything I could see was burned or had a lot of soot on it. There was no ceiling. The firefighters made me wear a helmet when I went in to keep from hitting my head on things hanging down.”

He and Kinder found Givan’s remains in front of the almost completely burned couch in the living room, laying parallel to the couch. The body was blackened and covered with soot and burnt debris. Toomey said parts of Givan’s arms were also missing. The coroner rolled Givan’s body over and his back wasn’t as badly burned as the front, though there was still burning over the vast majority of his body.

Givan’s remains were taken to the Kentucky State Medical Examiner’s office and examined by Dr. Donna Stewart, a forensic pathologist, and Toomey was present for the autopsy.

“The organs looked as though they’d been baked,” he said, “not soft and pliable as they’d normally be.”

Toomey said Dr. Stewart noted no penetrating or blunt-force trauma to what was left of the remains. He added normally, the examiner would collect a blood stain card, hair and post-mortem fingerprints, but the only thing they could take this time was the blood stain card as there was little to no flesh on Givan’s head and his hands were not present. Givan’s upper and lower jaws were extracted so investigators could eventually identify him through dental records.

No firearms or remnants of firearms were found in the trailer.

Kinder spoke next, saying he arrived at the scene of the fire just before 9 p.m. He said the evidence showed the fire began in the living room and spread from that room outward to the outside of the trailer and toward the bedrooms located at either end of the trailer.

While there were two stand-alone heaters in the home, Kinder said these were not to blame for the fire. One was a kerosene heater and located in the bedroom and one was electric and located in the living room. However, the electricity to the trailer had been cut off due bills not being paid, so the heater located near the source of the fire couldn’t have started it.

Kinder concluded the fire to have been caused by an intentional human act. He said a neighbor told him he’d seen Risinger arrive home and leave soon after, just minutes before he saw the smoke. He’d discussed the results of Givan’s autopsy with Toomey, who told him there was soot in Givan’s respiratory system, indicating he was alive during the fire. Adding to this Risinger’s admission and Davidson’s interview with law enforcement, Kinder concluded the fire was intentionally set.

Kinder added he found no evidence of accellerants and wasn’t able to determine how long the fire had been burning or whether the extent of the damage was typical for the burn time.

The court will likely hear from medical professionals on Thursday. Read a shorter version of the testimony Tuesday here.


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