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Woman indicted in fatal motel arson case

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

A Clayton County grand jury has indicted a 41-year-old woman on charges she set fire to an extended-stay motel and killed five people.

In the long list of charges, passed down in the indictment Wednesday, Sheree Dionne Murphy was formerly accused of one count of arson, five counts of murder, nine counts of murder during the commission of a felony, and a number of counts of battery and assault.

Murphy poured lighter fluid over a pile of mattress and set a fire early in the morning on June 7, 2007, according to the prosecutors and the Riverdale Fire Department.

The fire destroyed the Budget Inn, 709 King Road, killing a family as its prepared for a move, and a wedding. Killed in the fire were: Shakita Jones, 32; her children, Devon Butler, 11, and Desha Butler, 10; her fiancé, Fred Colston, Jr., 26, and her uncle, Melvin Jones, 43. Six others, including three firefighters, were injured.

Murphy, a transient, reportedly did menial labor for the motel owners, but had recently been arrested on charges of loitering. Fire officials said they suspected her almost immediately and said they have a strong case against her.

Murphy's attorney, Steve Frey, said there is no direct evidence Murphy set the fire and he described the prosecution's case as a case of, "liar, liar, pants on fire."

The evidence against Murphy, cited by the arrest warrant and the testimony at a probable cause hearing, is a number of witnesses who say they saw the 41-year-old woman in the area, and one who claims Murphy said she was going to, "burn the [expletive] down." The evidence against Murphy also includes security cameras, which caught images of her in the area.

Frey said he questions the honesty of the witnesses.

"I certainly question where these witnesses have been, why they did not come forward any sooner, and if they really heard her say this, why they sat on their hands for so long," Frey said.

He has asked for a speedy trial. Murphy's next court date has not yet been set.