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Third indictment issued in Riverdale motel fire

By Linda Looney-Bond

lbond@news-daily.com

A Clayton County Grand jury has issued a new indictment against a woman charged in the deaths of five people in a fire at a Riverdale motel more than two years ago.

Sheree Dionne Murphy, 47, was indicted Wednesday on five counts of murder, five counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated battery, one count of arson, one count of battery, and one count of cruelty to children.

Murphy is accused of setting a fire at a Budget Inn Motel, located at 709 King Road in Riverdale, on June 7, 2007. Five people -- members of one family -- died in the blaze.

Killed in the fire were Shikita Jones, 32; her children, Devon Butler, Jr., 11, and Desha Butler, 10; Fred Colston, Jr., 26, who was Jones' fiancé, and Melvin Jones, 43, who was the uncle of Shikita Jones.

The aggravated battery, battery, and cruelty to children charges stem from injuries caused to three other persons during the fire.

This is the third time an indictment has been handed down in the case. Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson said the first two indictments were issued before she took office as district attorney.

She said the first indictment was not worded properly, and as a result, a judge granted a special demurrer, which dismissed the indictment.

She said the second indictment also had errors. "A special demurrer is attacking the specificity of the indictment," she said. "The specificities would have been difficult to prove, and there were misspellings of victims' names, and other misspellings, so I just went ahead and re-indicted.

"I thought the [second] indictment could possibly have another demurrer. If a second special demurrer is granted, under Georgia law, you cannot prosecute anymore. That would prevent me from being able to prosecute on the murders."

Murphy's attorney, Steve Frey, said, "She [Murphy] didn't do it. As a matter of fact, when we had the preliminary hearing, the affiant was asked point blank, 'Do you have any evidence that would put an ignitable liquid in her hand' and he said no ... and did he have any proof that she ever possessed a lighter or any other form of flame, and he said no," Frey said.

"They've got some theory as to where she was and what she was doing, but there's no proof to back it up," he said. "We just simply hope to get tried on this one. We've stood our ground," said Frey. "We've pled not guilty from the get go. We've demanded a trial, and we're just waiting for our chance," he said.

Graham Lawson said the case is a death penalty case. Murphy is being held in the Clayton County Jail without bond. "She should be arraigned next month," Graham Lawson said.