Budget Inn Arson Defendant Sentenced

Jan 31, 2012, 16:46 ET from Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

After Nearly Five-year Investigation, Defendant Receives Five Consecutive Life Sentences

ATLANTA, Jan. 31, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Sheree Dionne Murphy was sentenced yesterday in Clayton County Superior Court to serve five consecutive life sentences plus 20 years in the Georgia State Department of Corrections prison system.

In June of 2007, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Atlanta II (Arson and Explosives) Field Office special agents and a special agent Certified Fire Investigator (CFI) investigated a suspicious fire at the Budget Inn Motel in Riverdale, Ga.  The fire resulted in the deaths of five family members, including two children.  A Georgia State Fire Marshal's Office Accelerant Canine was used during the cause and origin investigation and alerted to an area where multiple surplus mattresses had been stacked outside of the motel's rear exterior wall.  Fire debris samples were collected from the alert area and an ATF Southeastern Regional Forensics Laboratory exam tested positive for the presence of an ignitable substance.  The fire was determined to have been deliberately set and the origin placed at the mattress pile. 

Murphy was identified as a suspect from the numerous interviews, witness statements and video evidence.  On the day before the fire, Murphy had been refused drugs from a dealer staying at the motel.  Witnesses' said Murphy stated she would "burn the motel down."  A short while after making that statement the motel was on fire.  Video evidence placed Murphy leaving the motel area at the time smoke was seen bellowing from the motel. 

Murphy was subsequently arrested following a six-month ATF/Metro Arson Task Force investigation.  Based largely on circumstantial evidence and the death of five individuals from the fire, the case was pursued in Georgia State Court as a felony murder, malice murder, arson violation, and child cruelty charges.  Prior to trial approximately 150 motions were filed. 

On Dec. 5, 2011, Murphy was tried during a five-day jury trial in Clayton County, Georgia Superior Court.  During the trial, a team of 12 attorneys, law school volunteers and staff assisted in defending Murphy.  The defense claimed the fire originated in the motel attic from an unknown cause.  An ATF fire research engineer was brought in from the ATF Fire Research Laboratory in Annandale, Md., to assist the Clayton County District Attorney's Office during the trial.  After two days of deliberation, the jury returned guilty verdicts as to five counts felony murder; one count arson; and one count cruelty to children.  Murphy was acquitted of five counts malice murder.  Clayton County Executive Assistant District Attorney (ADA) Jason Green and ADA Katie Powers prosecuted the case and said the "jury did not think Murphy set the fire with the intent to kill anyone," thus eliminated the malice murder charges from their conviction.

"This investigation exemplifies the vigor in which ATF partners with other agencies to share its technical and scientific expertise along with its cutting-edge resources to solve heinous and violent crimes that take lives and destroy homes, businesses and places of worship," said Atlanta Special Agent in Charge Scott Sweetow.  "ATF is the primary, federal law enforcement agency leading arson investigations and the solving of this case further strengthens the collaboration and mission of our certified fire investigators and our local and state partners."

"The loss of life is tragic under any circumstances, but the hotel fire on June 6, 2007, is one of historic proportion for Clayton County Fire & Emergency Services.  To lose one life is heartbreaking, but to lose five is devastating.  Our hearts grieve with and go out to the Colston Family for all they have had to endure.  Our hearts go out to Ms. Murphy as well and we hope she continues to get the help that she needs.  It was a challenging case, but at the end of a thorough investigation, justice was served for the Colstons, Clayton County and Clayton County Fire & Emergency Services.  For that, we are thankful and we will continue to pray for the comfort of all those involved," Clayton County Fire Chief Jeff Hood.

This case was investigated by the ATF, the Georgia State Fire Marshal's Office, the Clayton County Fire Department and the Riverdale City Fire Department.More information about ATF is available at www.atf.gov.

Contact: Special Agent Richard Coes, PIO
Cell: (404) 931-0988


SOURCE Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives