Governor responds to FOX59 investigation into whether Flora case was mishandled

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - FOX59 is asking serious questions about how the Flora fatal fire investigation was handled and now the Governor is responding to our questions.

Were there conflicts of interest between investigators on the case? And if there were, did those conflicts jeopardize justice for those girls?

Crews were dispatched to the fire in the 100 block of East Columbia Street around 4 a.m. on November 21st. State police said Keyana Davis, 11, Keyara Phillips, 9, Kerriele McDonald, 7, and Konnie Welch, 5, were trapped inside the home when they arrived.

They died as a result. Investigators ruled the fire was set intentionally.

For the past seven months, investigators have been trying to figure out who is responsible. State Police said they are watching persons of interest, but so far no one has been arrested.

In just the past seven weeks, FOX59 uncovered a breakdown in communication in the case, a mistake in the investigation and a major resignation by a key investigator.

And the more we keep digging, the more serious the family's concerns become.

"I have a lot of frustration," said the victims' mother Gaylin Rose.

Rose and her family have been waiting and watching as investigators come in and out of that house. An investigator they'd look to for answers for Dennis Randle. He was a fire investigator for the State Fire Marshal's office.

After 10 weeks of investigating, Randle and his team released a report ruling the fire was set intentionally accelerants found in "several locations of the structure."

But the more FOX59 questioned authorities about details in that report, we learned a big part of the State's published findings were wrong.

The fire was still considered arson, but State Police now admitted, accelerants were not found all over the house; rather there was only one spot.

One day after FOX59 exposed the mistake, Randle resigned citing personal reasons. We drove to his home in Carroll County and asked him if he had made any mistakes in the Flora case.

He replied, "Myself, I don't believe so."

He said he followed a nationally recognized guide for fire investigations and did not believe he'd made any mistakes.

But should Randle have been assigned to the Flora case in the first place?

Conflicts in the case?

In 2014, Randle's wife Jean Ann Randle was convicted for stealing money from a farm account in Carroll County.

The State Trooper investigating her and interviewing Randle as part of his investigation was Trooper Gregg Edwards. Edwards is the same detective who was assigned to investigate the Flora case.

The man who collected evidence against Randle's wife only a few years ago was now working on the same case as him.

Was this a problem?

I asked the question first to State Police Superintendent Doug Carter.

He wouldn't comment specifically about Randle, but Carter told us this kind of thing happens in rural communities.

"“From my perspective, policing in rural Indiana is very different than the urban environment that we have here in Indianapolis," he explained. "We deal with complications associated with personal involvement in rural setting all over Indiana."

Carter went on to defend Edwards.

"He’s a constant professional. He would look beyond anything that might’ve been there before. And if it was there before, it was still professional."

But does that make it right?

Not everyone thinks so.

Roger Johnson served as Indiana Fire Marshal under Governor Mitch Daniels. He told FOX59, based on their past relationship, Randle and Edwards should never have been working on the same case.

"I think the jury would end up having trouble with that," he said.

“I would think I would’ve removed myself," added Princess Spencer-Kuc. She is an insurance fraud investigator who tipped authorities off and helped them bring down the group responsible for setting 26 fires throughout Muncie and Anderson for insurance money.

Spencer-Kuc knows how important good working relationships and communication is in an arson case. The Randle/Edwards relationship made her uncomfortable.

"It would’ve been a lot smoother to have brought someone in that has no history with the other person."

But the relationships don't end there in the small community of Flora.

Dennis Randle's son, Adam Randle, is the Flora Fire Chief. And Adam Randle's boss is Town Council President Josh Ayres, who happens to be the owner of the Flora house.

We caught up with Ayres outside his company's warehouse in Flora. He wouldn't comment about the case, but had this to say about his house being set on fire.

"It’s been awful. I hope they’re caught," said Ayres.

Governor responds

With all of these connections and mounting questions about how the case was handled, we wanted to know if the Governor was paying attention?

Governor Eric Holcomb refused to give FOX59 a sit down interview, but his spokesperson suggested we catch up with him at a public event. That's exactly what we did.

We asked him how there could be a breakdown of communication between two state agencies?

"We have to wake up every day and try to right. That’s what my charge is. Three boxes that I’ve asked everybody to check that works in this administration is to be honest, and to be humble, and to be hungry. Hungry to do good. If there’s been lapses we need to correct them. And we need to learn from them. And there’s no excuses, but we owe it to make sure that every single Hoosier is receiving the care and services that they not just pay for, but that they deserve. That’s my charge and that’s what we’ll stay focused on. And where things need to be corrected, they will be."

We also asked Holcomb if he was concerned about what appeared to be conflicts in the investigation?

"If there are potential conflicts, potential or hypothetical as you’re throwing out, then we need to address them. Each and every day. That’s what we do. We wake up each and every day and we try to do the right thing. And if someone is not, then we need to correct it."

We asked the Governor if there should be an audit of other investigations Randle had worked on while serving as a State fire investigator?

The Governor would not comment, but replied, "We'll have more to say as the case develops. I care about 6.6 million Hoosiers. Every single one of them and that's what's we'll be focused on. Getting it right. Where there are wrongs, we’ll get them right."

State Fire Marshal stays silent

FOX59 has repeatedly requested an interview with State Fire Marshal Jim Greeson, but our requests have been denied.

The Carroll County Prosecutor recently asked all agencies involved in the Flora investigation to avoid further discussion of the case which could impact successful prosecution in the future.