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Attorney: Arson suspect liked motel where 5 died

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

The woman accused of burning down a Riverdale motel once worked there in exchange for temporary lodging, according to her attorney.

Sheree "Queen" Murphy, 45, has been arrested on charges of arson and felony murder, in relation to the June 7 fire, which destroyed the Budget Inn and killed five residents.

Murphy, a homeless woman, denies the allegations, according to her attorney Steve Frey. She had a good relationship with the motel managers, he said, and did work for them.

"She wasn't homeless as long as they let her live there," Frey said. "She was allowed to do some menial clean-up jobs and was allowed to stay there."

The fire began behind the 709 King Road motel, early in the morning, when a pile of abandoned mattresses, stacked under a stairway, were doused in flammable liquid and set on fire.

Murphy was a suspect early in the investigation, according to investigating authorities, when she was placed at the scene by witnesses and nearby security cameras. One witness reportedly told Riverdale Fire Department investigators the woman had been heard to say, "I'm going to burn this [expletive] down."

Frey, who has filed subpoenas for the witnesses' names and statements, said he doesn't understand, though, why Murphy would want to hurt the residents or harm the motel.

"You've got somebody whose life is very rudimentary," Frey said, "who's just looking for anything that anybody's willing to give her, and, for the life of me, I can't figure out why she would care about doing harm to those people."

When told police were looking for her, Murphy called police and offered to meet them, authorities said. She met with them three times, according to Frey, and adamantly denied having anything to do with the start of the fire.

Murphy admits to being in the area. She was born on the southside of the Metro Atlanta area, and has lived on the streets all around the region. "She told me," Frey said, "that when the sun comes up, it's a little hard to sleep, so she gets up and walks around."

An alley-way and a wooded area near the motel, were good places for Murphy to go when she was ordered to leave business and residential areas in Riverdale, Frey said.

Riverdale Fire Chief Billy Hayes and Georgia Fire and Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine said they have a very strong case against Murphy, but would not comment on the details of the case.

According to warrant applications filed in Clayton County court, the case against Murphy is based on eyewitnesses, but the witnesses apparently did not see the fatal fire begin.

The fire was reported by two Clayton County Police Department officers, Elgin Scott and Michael LeBlanc, who saw the smoke, called 911, and began pounding on doors at about 7 a.m., waking people up and getting them out of the extended-stay motel.

A motive for the fire has not been alleged. Oxendine, referring to Murphy by her street name "Queen," said she has a long criminal history. Frey acknowledges Murphy's lifestyle, but said the charges against her are "largely reflective of someone who has no place to go." Her record, according to Frey, does not include anything violent, or any instances of threatening to hurt anyone.

According to Clayton County jail logs, Murphy was booked into the jail on May 30, for loitering and obstruction of an officer, and was released six days before the fire.

The probable cause hearing, in the motel-fire case, is set for Jan. 8.