Defense expert says motel fire started in attic

A defense fire investigation expert was the last witness in the murder trial of a homeless woman accused of starting the blaze that killed five people in a Riverdale motel.

Sheree Dionne "Queenie" 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.

Clayton County prosecutors allege that Murphy set afire mattresses stacked outside the motel, because she was mad at a drug dealer, who also lived there.

But defense attorney Steve Frey, of Jonesboro, said Murphy is innocent, and that the fire started in the attic.

Defense expert Douglas James Carpenter testified Friday that his analysis of the data in the case shows that the fire started in the attic, but of unknown causes.

"The mattress was not the origin of the fire," said Carpenter.

Under cross-examination by Assistant District Attorney Katie Powers, Carpenter admitted that his theory of the fire pattern depended on the motel being in good condition.

"You're assuming that what was essentially a crack house was kept in good condition?" said Powers.

To which Carpenter responded, "Yes."

Jurors will return to the courthouse Monday for closing arguments, and could begin deliberations the same day.