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Witness says motel fire spread 'quick'

A man living at the Riverdale motel where five people died in a 2007 fire, testified Wednesday to seeing the woman accused of setting it, just minutes before billows of smoke poured from the roof.

Adarian Weems lived at the Budget Inn Motel with his then-girlfriend and two children, and was acquainted with Sheree Dionne "Queenie" Murphy.

Weems was also friendly with one of the victims, Fred Colston, Jr. Colston, 26, lived at the motel with Shikita Jones, 32; her children, Devon Butler, Jr., 11, and Desha Butler, 10. All four died in the fire, along with Jones' uncle, Melvin Jones, 43, who was in town for the couple's upcoming wedding.

Four other people were also injured in the deadly blaze.

Murphy, 45, is charged with multiple counts of murder and aggravated battery in the fire deaths. Prosecutors initially sought the death penalty against her, but Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson withdrew the motion.

If convicted of murder, Murphy faces life in prison.

Weems testified that he, Murphy and a man known only to him as "T" shared a cigarette in Weems' room the morning of the fire. Weems said Murphy was upbeat and playful.

"It was a jolly, funny conversation," he said. "She was high-spirited, playing around and friendly. Then she left. Simple as that."

Weems said it was less than 15 minutes later that Riverdale police officers beat on his door to tell him the motel was on fire.

"It was a weird event to jump off as quick as it did," he said. "She had just left and I mean just left."

Prosecutors allege that Murphy walked from Weems' room to the rear of the motel, where the owners had stacked old mattresses. They allege that she poured lighter fluid on the mattresses and set them on fire, because she was mad at a drug dealer who lived there.

Weems said Murphy walked toward the rear of the motel where the mattresses were stacked when she and “T” left his room, but, "I did not see Ms. Murphy set a fire."

When Weems was alerted to the fire, he said, he called Colston.

"He said, 'Please, man, tell them to come get us out of this room,'" said Weems. "'We're stuck, we can't get out of this room.'"

Weems roused the occupants of two rooms on the lower level and ran to King Road.

"The motel roof had just fell," he said. "Smoke was bellowing out of the roof. I knew he couldn't get out of that room. The door handle was broken and management was supposed to fix it, but they didn't. I just looked at their room in shock, that quick for something like that to happen. It was shocking."

Firefighters found the five bodies in the bath tub, where they had apparently retreated and run water over themselves until there was longer any water.

Under cross-examination, Weems acknowledged that some motel residents cooked crack cocaine and sold the drugs out of their rooms.

Murphy is being held without bond in the Clayton County Jail. Testimony will resume today, and is expected to continue Friday.