Before setting the house on fire, a man suspected in a homicide killed his roommate with a hammer, a Warren County sheriff's detective testified Wednesday.
Detective Nick Jewell of the Warren County Sheriff's Office on Wednesday divulged details of the invest that resulted in the arrest last month of Sean Birge, 28, of Bowling Green.
Birge is charged with murder, arson, abuse of a corpse and tampering with physical evidence in the death of Wendell Leon Reynolds Jr., 45, of Bowling Green.
Reynolds' body was found Feb. 20 in the rental house at 678 Penns Chapel Road where he lived, in the aftermath of a fire that engulfed the residence.
Jewell said Wednesday during a preliminary hearing in Warren District Court that the body was found in the back bedroom on a mattress, with a crowbar and a gasoline can lying nearby.
An autopsy found at least 22 wounds on the back of Reynolds' head and two puncture wounds to his skull, the detective said.
"There was no smoke in (Reynolds') lungs and he was deceased when the fire was set," Jewell said, testifying about the state medical examiner's findings from the autopsy.
The WCSO was dispatched to the fire in the early morning hours of Feb. 20. The Richardsville Volunteer Fire Department, Bowling Green Fire Department, state fire marshal's office and other agencies came to the scene as well.
Jewell said that he spoke with neighbors and witnesses at the scene, and first heard Birge's name mentioned by his boss.
Investigators later learned that Birge lived at the house periodically.
On the afternoon of Feb. 20, Jewell was informed by a dispatcher that Birge had checked into T.J. Samson Community Hospital in Glasgow that day, reportedly due to chest pains.
Jewell traveled to the hospital to speak with Birge.
"He gave me a timeline of where he was, what he was doing and he was already aware that the victim had passed away," Jewell said.
Birge reportedly told detectives at the time that he was last at the Penns Chapel Road house around 10:30 p.m. Feb. 19, and that he was drunk and high when he left.
Birge claimed to have driven to Glasgow and then back to Bowling Green, falling asleep in the Kroger parking lot on Nashville Road on Feb. 20, Jewell said, adding that surveillance footage has not turned up evidence of Birge's vehicle there.
Jewell said law enforcement later heard from a friend of Birge's who claimed that Birge had left his cell phone with him the night before the fire, reporting that Birge said he planned to "'accidentally' leave" the phone with him and that "there were a few things he had to do."
Police seized the cell phone and obtained a search warrant for it.
On Feb. 23, after receiving information that Birge was in Clarksville living with his mother and working there, Jewell drove there in an effort to interview him.
Birge agreed to a police interview with Jewell and another detective in Clarksville.
"By the end of the interview, Sean had confessed to killing Wendell Reynolds with a hammer," Jewell said.
The detective recalled Birge saying during this interview that he told Reynolds he had lost his phone in the home somewhere and had him help look for it.
Later that night, when Reynolds was asleep, Birge said he went into the bedroom with a hammer and a flashlight, Jewell said.
"(Birge) said words to the effect that he had one chance at this and to do it right," Jewell said.
Birge then reportedly dragged the mattress with Reynolds' body on it into another room, disassembled the bed and poured gasoline on the pieces of wooden bed frame, Jewell said.
Then, Birge poured some lighter fluid near the front door and lit it, starting the fire that engulfed the building, Jewell said.
Birge then traveled to Barren County, claiming to have thrown the hammer into a river there, though detectives were unable to find a hammer in the location Birge described, the detective said.
Police arrested Birge on Feb. 23 in Clarksville, and he later waived extradition and agreed to be brought to Kentucky to answer to criminal charges.
Jewell said a BGFD accelerant detecting dog was deployed at the scene of the fire and alerted to the presence of an accelerant.
During the investigation, detectives interviewed Reynolds' mother and sister, who said that Reynolds had spent the day at his residence with them on Feb. 19, and that he was the only one there when they left just after dark, according to Jewell.
Officers found a trail camera on a tree behind the residence, but it did not contain relevant information, the detective testified.
Warren District Judge John Brown referred the case to a grand jury.
Birge remains in Warren County Regional Jail under a $500,000 cash bond.