Spokane-Area Father Is Being Held In 11-Year-Old Son's Death

SPOKANE - A man arrested in the death of his 11-year-old son was ordered held yesterday on $1 million bail as prosecutors presented evidence to link him to the crime and a fire that destroyed his home.

Court documents say there had been recent turmoil in Robert Wood's life before the strangulation of son Christopher.

Authorities have not discussed a possible motive. But prosecutors note that several events, including the roofing contractor's firing from a job because he was suspected of stealing $105,000 and items from his employer.

Wood admitted stealing and pleaded with the employer, Crown West Realty, to let him pay back the money instead of pursuing theft charges, court papers say.

Shortly after his firing, the papers say, a girlfriend Wood had planned to marry broke off their engagement.

On Sept. 27, prosecutors add, Wood had become the beneficiary of life-insurance policies on his son totaling $60,000, and on the day of his firing had two real-estate agents estimate the value of his home.

Charges of first-degree murder and arson are expected to be filed this week.

Wood, 43, has been held in the Spokane County Jail on a theft count involving the former employer since Feb. 11, the day after his son's body was discovered. He was arrested at the jail for investigation of murder and arson on Tuesday because detectives feared he'd flee if released on $100,000 cash bail in the theft case.

Yesterday, bail was increased to $1 million. A public defender will be appointed for Wood.

Wood had told detectives he last saw Christopher preparing for school about 8:20 a.m. on Feb. 9, shortly before the family home in suburban Newman Lake was severely damaged by a fire that started in the basement. The boy never arrived at school. His body was found two days later, 56 miles away near Deer Lake in Stevens County. Investigators believe the boy was killed in the home and the body dumped at the rural site, which is along a road.

On the day of his son's disappearance, Wood indicated he thought his son might have started the house fire. He tearfully pleaded for Christopher to return, saying he wouldn't be punished for the blaze.

In jailhouse interviews last week, the divorced father of six denied any involvement in his son's death.

A pathologist who conducted an autopsy determined Christopher had vomited around the time he died. Tests conducted at a State Patrol crime lab confirmed that stains found on the bed of Wood's pickup were from his son's vomit, prosecutors say.

Wood had his cell phone turned on after the fire was reported. But several calls made by a neighbor trying to relate the news of the fire rang unanswered, court papers say. When the phone was eventually picked up an hour and 20 minutes after the fire was reported, Wood told the neighbor he was in his pickup and about 40 minutes away from home, the papers say.

When Wood failed to show up at home more than an hour after that call, the neighbor made more calls, which rang unanswered.

Wood's girlfriend, Schelle Retherford, who broke off her engagement to him, later reached him on his cell phone. She told investigators he sounded "hysterical" and was crying.

However, Wood did call his insurance agent and notified him of the fire while he was on the way home. He got home more than three hours after the fire was reported and nearly two hours after he was contacted about the blaze, prosecutors say.

Wood told the neighbor and the insurance agent he'd been delayed because his pickup had twice gone into a ditch. But he insisted in later questioning by police that he had gone into the ditch only once.

Detectives who examined the area where Wood claimed his pickup had gone into a ditch found no evidence to back up the claim, the court documents say.

Christopher's body was found within a few miles of where his father had reported he had been after the fire, the documents say.