0

Witnesses allegedly saw suspect set motel fire

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Seven witnesses told investigators they saw Sheree Dionne Murphy pouring flammable liquid over a stack of mattresses behind the motel.

One said the 45-year-old woman yelled, "I'm going to burn this [expletive] down!" according to warrant applications filed by E.D. Earnest, a division chief with the Riverdale Fire Department.

Murphy, an Atlanta woman also known as "Queen," was captured by three businesses' video surveillance cameras, before and after the fire was set, according to the Clayton County court documents.

The June 7, Riverdale fire started at the pile of mattresses under the back stairs of the Budget Inn, at 709 King Road, but quickly spread to the 44-room, extended-stay motel.

The fire was reported by an off-duty police officer, who saw the smoke, at about 7 a.m., that morning. And before the fire was extinguished, five people were dead, three residents were injured and the motel was destroyed.

It is not clear, a few days after the suspect was arrested, how the seven witnesses saw the Murphy set the fire, but did not report it.

According to the warrant applications, filed a few hours before Murphy was arrested, the stairs were engulfed by the mattresses' flames, blocking the second story occupants' escape, and the fire fighters' rescue path.

Murphy is charged with felony arson, five counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, and one count of simple battery. Shakita Jones, 32, her children Devon Butler, 11, and Desha Butler, 10; her fiancé, Fred Colston, Jr., 26, and her uncle, Melvin Jones, 43, died of smoke inhalation in the fire.

According to investigators, they were huddled in the bathroom, with the water turned on, when they died.

Fire officials said they do not believe Murphy meant to kill anyone, but did intend to set the fire, a felony which turned out to be fatal. It is also not known why the Atlanta woman allegedly wanted to burn the motel to the ground.

When reached by a Clayton News Daily reporter, a motel manager declined to comment on whether he knew Murphy, or had ever rented her a motel room.

There are several civil suits either pending, or have been threatened, against the management, in connection with the fire.

City and state fire authorities have declined to comment on the case, except to say they believe there is strong evidence against Murphy, and they investigated until they were "very confident" the case would convince a judge and jury.

According to John Oxendine, Georgia Insurance and Fire Safety Commissioner, Murphy has been the main suspect since July.

"We were suspicious of her very early in the case," he said. "But being suspicious, of course, is not enough to get a conviction. We wanted to make sure we had a strong case."

Riverdale Fire Chief Billy Hayes said, Monday, that the arrest was delayed until he was confident in the case. Murphy has a "very extensive" criminal record, he said.

There is no record of prior charges against Murphy in Clayton County State or Superior courts, but a county jail docket shows she was booked on May 30 for loitering and obstruction of an officer, and was released just six days before the fire was set.

Murphy's next court date has not yet been set.