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Mother indicted in fire deaths

May 17, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The mother of three children who died after a fire in their home in November 1999 was indicted Wednesday on murder and arson charges.

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Sara Louise Howard, 37, has been charged with setting the fire at her 211 E. Liberty St. home in Martinsburg and with leaving her three young children behind as she escaped through a second floor bedroom window.

The indictment by a Berkeley County grand jury charges Howard with three counts of first-degree murder, three counts of felony murder, three counts of child neglect resulting in death, one count of child neglect and one count of arson.

She was being held Wednesday in the Eastern Regional Jail on $20,000 bail.

Authorities had said they believe the fire started in an upholstered chair in the living room.

At the time of the fire, police and prosecutors suspected arson, but did not lodge that charge. Since then, independent tests by both the West Virginia State Police and a private lab have confirmed the fire was deliberately set, Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely said Wednesday.

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Games-Neely said it was an "incendiary" fire, but she declined to describe how the fire was started before the case goes to trial.

Should the case go to trial, the prosecution can seek convictions on a felony murder charge or first-degree murder and arson charges, according to Games-Neely. All are part of the indictment so the prosecution can choose, she said.

On Nov. 13, 1999, Howard passed her three-year-old twins Corey and Brandi and four-year-old Mason as she climbed through a window onto a porch roof to escape the 2:43 a.m. fire, according to allegations in court records.

Howard climbed over Corey to get out the window, Games-Neely alleged.

Corey Howard, 3, died the night of the fire from smoke inhalation and complications from the heat of the fire. His older brother Mason, 4, died Nov. 17, and Corey's twin sister, Brandi, died Nov. 18.

Following the children's deaths, Howard was charged with three counts of felony child neglect resulting in death.

Howard turned herself Jan. 14 after warrants for her arrest on those charges were issued.

During a hearing in January, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Gregory Jones contended that Howard was responsible for the children's deaths because she left the burning building without helping them.

Howard's attorney, Homer Speaker, said Howard was scared and panicked and shouldn't be prosecuted for a tragic accident.

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