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Indictment thrown out in Riverdale fire case

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

A Clayton County Superior Court judge has dismissed the indictment of Sheree Murphy, a homeless woman charged in the Budget Inn Motel fire, which killed five family members in Riverdale, last June.

Superior Court judge William H. Ison said technically, the indictment was incorrectly worded.

Judge Ison determined a section of charges related to aggravated battery -- describing injuries the victims received to specific body parts -- used the disjunctive, "or," rather than the conjunctive, "and." While charges in the indictment included one count of arson, five counts of murder, nine counts of murder while committing a felony, and several assault charges, Ison ruled the indictment was seriously flawed.

Today, at 1:15 p.m., the grand jury will reconvene to decide whether to re-indict Murphy. If a new indictment is approved, the district attorney's office said it will seek the death penalty.

John Turner, executive assistant district attorney, defended the call for the death penalty, adding that the original indictment was thrown out on an "extreme technicality." However, he said a defendant is entitled to a "perfect indictment."

Turner said his office will seek the death penalty based on a recent account from a witness alleging Murphy admitted to committing the offenses.

"About a month ago, we got a confession from a witness that the defendant had confessed her guilt to the witness," said Turner. "It is our office policy to seek the death penalty when more than one person has been killed.

"Under the law, if you ask for the death penalty, you have to do it at the time of arraignment," Turner continued. "Now that we are in a position of re-indictment, that makes it appropriate."

Steve Frey, the attorney representing Murphy, believes the pursuit of the death penalty is "mean-spirited" and an attempt to save face on behalf of the district attorney.

"It's pure retaliation," said Frey. "At the end of the day, they don't have any one cop, or any one piece of evidence, that says that she set this fire. All you have is this fire and this under belly of society saying that she said she was going to do it.

"Tell me what has changed," Frey continued. "The question then becomes, were they too lazy to go for [the death penalty] in the beginning. The notion that this DA's office is fighting corruption is laughable. Instead of finding some objective evidence, they just went and rounded up another sleaze," said Frey.

Murphy has been in the Clayton County Jail since November, and before yesterday, was scheduled to stand trial on June 9. If indicted again, Murphy would have to wait another 30 to 60 days for arraignment, according to Turner.

"I think it's an injustice to have her continue to sit in jail, because they can't get it right," said Frey.