NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Authorities have indicted a man for a 2006 arson fire in Brooklyn that left four people dead.
Prosecutors charged 38-year-old Samuel Martinez Tuesday with eight counts of second-degree murder.
“A tragedy like this cannot and will not be forgotten nor can a crime like this go unpunished,” District Attorney Charles J. Hynes said in a statement. “This is the culmination of an exhaustive six-year investigation led by the FDNY Bureau of Fire Investigation, the New York Police Department and my office, into a horrific fire that claimed the lives of four people, including a mother and her two young children.”
1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reports
Martinez is admittedly a junkie who has been in prison on unrelated burglary charges, 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported.
At his arraignment Tuesday, his attorney, Jay Cohen, said Martinez denies setting the fire.
“Well, you know, it took them six years to put the case together. There’s no question that he was a strung out druggie and he committed burglaries, but there’s a big difference between a drug addict and being a killer,” Cohen told CBS 2’s Kathryn Brown.
“His reaction is he is absolutely not guilty,” he added. “He’ll take a lie detector test.”
WCBS 880’s Irene Cornell On The Story
According to prosecutors, on Feb. 24, 2006, Martinez set the first floor of a four-story building on Pacific Street in Crown Heights on fire. They claimed he wanted to get back at a heroin dealer who lived there.
The blaze quickly spread, trapping residents inside.
Kassoum Fofana survived the fire, but lost his entire family. His wife of 20 years and two young children were trapped inside their third-floor apartment and killed in a haze of smoke and flames.
Forana escaped by breaking a window, but was critically injured. He said he remembers waking up in the hospital and hearing the news that his wife, 3-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son had been killed.
“I was in shock,” he said. “Ten times a day, 20 times a day, all the time I think about is my family. It’s still difficult.”
Fofana was left with permanent nerve damage in his arm.
Another victim, 23-year-old Sherri Williams, died after jumping from the roof in a desperate bid to live. She left behind an 8-year-old boy. Her sister was in the courtroom Tuesday wearing a shirt with her picture on it — as Martinez pleaded not guilty.
Mike Vecchione, chief of the Brooklyn DA’s Rackets Division, said Martinez came to their attention through jailhouse informants with information only the alleged arsonist would know.
“There was the way the fire was set, what he used to start the fire,” Vecchione said.
Martinez, who has a lengthy criminal record that includes multiple felony convictions, is already serving time in jail for an unrelated burglary conviction. Prosecutors said they fully believe he is responsible for arson, though they can’t charge him with that because the statute of limitations has passed.
If convicted, Martinez faces 25 years to life in prison on each murder count.
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