PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) – A Peoria fire captain told a Peoria County jury that he and his partner had to do a “double take” when they found a woman’s body in a fully engulfed house on Peoria’s East bluff nearly two years ago.
Capt. Frank Bivert, a 25-year veteran of the department, said he was one of the first firefighters to arrive at 1021 E. Virginia Ave. He and the other firefighter busted open the home’s front door and due to the extreme heat and smoke, searched through the house by crawling on the ground and using their sense of feel to “clear the house.”
Bivert took the stand as one of the first witnesses in the trial of Tahir Goodman, 30, who faces charges of aggravated arson and first-degree murder in connection with Dec. 1, 2021, death of J’Naysia M. Hobbs, who was found in her bedroom.
Despite her body being severely burned, investigators were able to determine she died of strangulation prior to the fire, leading Goodman to be charged with her death.
Bivert said that other firefighters finally arrived and began to knock the fire down. It was then, he said, that he was able to find the body of Hobbs on the bed. Nothing was left of the mattress, only “the frame and springs,” Bivert said.
He told jurors that Hobbs’ body was so severely burned that it blended in with the bed.
During his bond hearing a day after Hobbs was found, Peoria County prosecutors said Goodman and Hobbs were wrestling when he put his forearm on her neck and she started “breathing funny.” Goodman then left the house, and the fire was noticed a short time later.
During their open statement, prosecutors Brenda McCavitt and Brian FitzSimons told jurors that Goodman admitted he was with Hobbs until about 5 a.m. that morning, which was minutes before the fire was reported at her 1021 E. Virginia Ave., home.
Phone records, they argued, would show Goodman was with Hobbs from 11 p.m. the night before until just before the fire was reported. The records, FitzSimons said, also showed he walked a block or so to a nearby gas station, where he caught an Uber to go to his mom’s house on South Faraday Street.
The two, the prosecutor said, were in a relationship at the time of the fire.
But Mark Rose, Goodman’s attorney, urged jurors not to rush to judgment. Rather, he said, they needed to act like “sponges” and soak up all the evidence before coming to a decision.
During the first day of testimony, jurors got an education on arson investigation and how fires “live” through combustion and what happens to the superheated gases as they are formed.
Fire Investigator Brad Pierson went through several photos that showed the house after the fire was put out. He’s explained how the burn patterns were formed on the house as the fire raged.
He explained that he believed the fire started in the house’s rear bedroom with the bedding, the materials and the mattress being the initial fuel source.
“The depth of burn and the completeness of the burn shows the bed was the initial area of origin of the fire,” he said from the stand.
Pierson said the fire initially “flashed up” and superheated gases filled the room. A window busted out and fueled the fire even more with fresh oxygen. Hobbs, he said, was found on the bed itself.
When a picture of her remains was shown on the large screen in the second-floor courtroom, members of Hobbs’ family covered their mouths, their eyes conveyed the sadness and the pain they felt. One woman left the room.
The trial is expected to go through Wednesday. If convicted, Goodman faces at least 20 years and possibly up to 60 years behind bars.