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Witness says dog helped with fire probe

A Georgia fire investigator testified, Thursday, that a trained K-9 unit alerted authorities to the presence of an accelerant, in two places at a Riverdale motel, where five people died in a June 2007 fire.

Capt. Ken Palmer, of the Fire Marshal's Office, took the stand in Clayton County Superior Court in the trial of Sheree Dionne "Queenie" Murphy. Murphy, 45, faces life in prison, if convicted of murder in the deaths of Shikita Jones, 32; her children, Devon Butler, Jr., 11, and Desha Butler, 10; her fiancé, Fred Colston, Jr., 26, and her uncle, Melvin Jones, 43, who was in town for the couple's upcoming wedding. Four other people were also injured.

Palmer testified that he brought his accelerant-detection K-9, Smokey, to the scene hours after the blaze was extinguished.

"He made two indications at the rear of the motel," said Palmer. "One was near the stairwell going up to the second level. The other was the area where the mattresses were."

Prosecutors allege that Murphy poured lighter fluid on the mattresses and ignited them because she was angry at a drug dealer who lived at the Budget Inn Motel.

After Smokey “alerted” on the areas, another fire investigator was brought in to collect samples of the areas. Mickey Hunt worked for the Fire Marshal's Office in 2007, and also testified under direct examination by Clayton prosecutor, Katie Powers.

"I collected dirt and concrete where the K-9 alerted," he said. "I used latex gloves, picked up the samples, put them in a glass jar, put on the lid and put on a fresh pair of gloves for the next sample."

Hunt said he collected six glass jars of debris from the area where Smokey alerted. The jars were sent to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

ATF Special Agent David Diaz-Guadalupe took the stand after Hunt. He testified that he seized images from surveillance cameras posted on businesses around the motel. He also went to a convenience store next to the motel, where police said Murphy got the container of lighter fluid that they allege she used to start the fire.

"I went to the area inside the store, where the lighter fluid is kept," he said. "There were two rows, about four or five deep. In one row, one can was missing. You could still see the dust around where the can had been sitting. I bought a similar bottle from the same store."

But under cross-examination by defense attorney Steve Frey, Diaz-Guadalupe acknowledged that he was unsure which day the bottle was collected.

Other state witnesses who are expected to testify include two people who allegedly told police they saw Murphy in the area where the fire started.

Murphy has been held without bond in the Clayton County Jail since her arrest in 2007. Prosecutors initially filed an intention to seek the death penalty against her. However, Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson withdrew that motion before the trial started.