John C. “Court” Montgomery laid his head in his hands and fought back tears while talking about the phone call his son-in-law Scott Dunn made early Jan. 14.

“Scott said, ‘Court, you gotta come home! You gotta come home! Your house is on fire!’ ” Montgomery said. “I said, ‘Where’s Brandi?’ ”

Montgomery was asking about his daughter, Dunn’s wife Brandon “Brandi” C. Dunn. Montgomery said Dunn told him someone was inside the home beating Mrs. Dunn.

“I asked why he didn’t go in,” Montgomery said, and Dunn told him the fire was “too hot.”

Dunn, 27, of 469 Branchton Road, Slippery Rock, is charged with beating his 22-year-old wife to death and setting fire to his in-laws’ Grove City home to cover up the crime.

Montgomery was among several witnesses testifying Tuesday at Dunn’s preliminary hearing before District Justice Lawrence Silvis on charges of first and third degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, abuse of a corpse and three counts of arson.

The Dunns were staying at the Montgomery’s 109 E. Washington Blvd. home on Jan. 14 while Mrs. Dunn’s parents were wintering in southern California. Montgomery said it was the first time they’d asked the couple to stay at the house full-time while they were gone. The Dunns were looking for a new home, he said, and the trailer where they lived — owned by her paternal grandfather — got pretty cold in the winter.

Montgomery said his daughter had never talked to him about problems in her relationship with Dunn, her longtime boyfriend who she married in July 2005.

“I thought she confided everything to me,” he said, “but I found out that she didn’t.”

After her death, Montgomery said he learned that Dunn abused his daughter. He said he had seen bruises on her neck and side.

“When I’d ask her about it, she said she fell down,” he said.

In early January, Montgomery said Mrs. Dunn told his wife that she and her husband were sleeping in separate bedrooms. He said there was no discussion as to why.

Montgomery said there was no indication Dunn had a substance- or alcohol-abuse problem. He said Mrs. Dunn “probably had an alcohol problem” but was never treated for it.

The morning she was killed, Mrs. Dunn was reportedly out with friends. Her husband was not with her, and state police Trooper Matt Roth said Dunn told him at the scene of the fire that was because she liked “to party” and Dunn said he didn’t.

Testimony from the couple’s friend Christopher Keck, Grove City, contradicted that statement. Keck said he helped Dunn support a cocaine habit of up to $800 a week from October to December 2005.

Before Silvis advised Keck that he needn’t answer questions that incriminated him and suspended his testimony until he could contact a lawyer, Keck admitted he’d been at a “beer and coke” party, as Dunn’s attorney Stephen Misko of Butler put it, on Edgewood Avenue in Grove City on the morning Mrs. Dunn was killed.

Keck said Mrs. Dunn had called him at 4 a.m. looking for Dunn and again at 5:30 a.m. to apologize for thinking Keck was lying when he told her that her husband was not with him.

Keck said his cousin took him to get Mrs. Dunn at her parents house after the second call.

When he arrived at the Montgomery’s house, Keck said the keys were left in the door and Mrs. Dunn was asleep. He said he took the keys inside and woke her up. They left the house together but left the door unlocked because they couldn’t find the keys after he set them down.

Keck said he was friends with both the Dunns, but spent more time with Mrs. Dunn, whose neighborhood he grew up in. They drank beer at her parents house a few nights a week and slept in the same bed at least once since she was married, Keck said.

Keck testified that Dunn never said he was upset about the time Keck spent with Mrs. Dunn. But in late December, a condom wrapper was found in one of the Montgomery bedrooms and Dunn asked Keck if he had sex with Mrs. Dunn. Dunn told Keck he’d hoped not, because he’d shoot him, Keck testified.

Around New Year’s, Keck said he and Dunn nearly came to blows over an argument When they talked about it later, Keck said Dunn told him he’d “thought about getting a baseball bat and breaking my legs.”

Charmaine Miller, Grove City, testified that she was at the party Jan. 14 and the last time she had seen or talked to Mrs. Dunn before that was about a month before at the Montgomery’ house.

Ms. Miller said Mrs. Dunn asked her about the condom wrapper and Ms. Miller said it was from an encounter at the house between herself and a friend. Mrs. Dunn asked Ms. Miller to explain that to Dunn, which she said she did when he arrived in the Montgomery’s’ Cadillac to pick her up about 6:30 a.m.

Ms. Miller said Dunn, who didn’t get out of the car, said nothing when she told him.

“He didn’t look at me or anything,” she said. “He just was looking forward.”

His demeanor the morning of the fire also came up at the hearing.

“I wouldn’t say he appeared upset,” Roth said. “He wasn’t crying or carrying on. He didn’t have a lot of emotion at all.”

He also said Dunn was cooperative and talkative within an hour of the fire being reported and that Dunn never asked if police had found the man he claimed was beating his wife.

Grove City Police Officer William Moretti said he arrived within minutes of the call Dunn made to 911 — played at the hearing — to report the fire. Dunn told him there had been a blond man in a red flannel shirt beating his wife and Moretti scoured the area. One man who was found who vaguely met the description was ruled out as a suspect, Moretti said.

After the fire, Montgomery said they discovered more than $500 in rolled state quarters and some jewelry was missing from the house.

When $2,000 in commemorative coins were stolen from his house several years ago, Montgomery said police suspected Dunn, who has done jail time for several burglaries.

When his sister went to have pieces cleaned at a downtown Grove City jeweler in May, Montgomery said a woman working there said Dunn had brought a ring in mid-December to have it appraised because he wanted to sell it. When she got it out of the safe, his sister said it was Mrs. Montgomery’s wedding ring.

The preliminary hearing continues today and July 5.

Prosecutors are trying to show there is enough evidence connecting Dunn to his wife’s killing to convince Silvis to send the case to Common Pleas Court. More than 20 witnesses have been subpoenaed. Montgomery and Keck were among nine who testified Tuesday, including several firefighters, police officers and a neighbor.

Misko cross-examined each of the witnesses Tuesday. He questioned Montgomery about the locks on the doors and windows at his home, police and fire personnel about procedures and events that morning and Miller and Keck about their actions in the hours before Mrs. Dunn’s death.

Police charged Dunn after concluding his version of events surrounding his wife’s death didn’t add up.

Dunn told police he left his wife at the Montgomery’s home after picking her up at the party and went to Slippery Rock. Dunn said his truck broke down and he walked back to the Montgomery’s home where he found a blond man beating his wife near the front door. Dunn told police he chased the man out of the house, which burst into flames as they exited.

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