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Town torn over 'confession' by accused killer arsonist, 10

  • Story Highlights
  • Boy escapes house fire that kills his mom, half-sister and three other children
  • 10-year-old charged with arson and murder, had been held in detention center
  • Case has split a small Ohio town
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By Brad Lendon
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GREENVILLE, Ohio (CNN) -- A 10-year-old boy charged with arson and murder in the deaths of his mother and four others was released to the custody of his grandmother Monday in a case that has shocked and divided a small Ohio town.

The child denies all the charges, the boy's attorney, David Rohrer, told Darke County Juvenile Court Judge Michael McClurg on Monday morning. Rohrer also said that while the boy was read his rights before questioning, his age prevented him from fully understanding the situation.

About three dozen people gathered outside the county government center cheered when it was announced outside that the boy would be freed immediately from a juvenile facility in nearby Troy.

The boy escaped the September 16 fire that killed his mother, Chanan Palmer; his half-sister Kaysha, 8, and three children of Christy Winans: Kayla Winans, 6; Je'Shawn Davis, 5; and Jasmine Davis, 3. Video Watch a town divided over boy's fate »

Christy Winans and her boyfriend escaped the blaze with minor or no injuries.

Neighbors in Greenville, Ohio, about 30 miles from Dayton, said the duplex became a raging inferno within five minutes.

Darke County Prosecutor Richard Howell told the Dayton Daily News last week that the boy didn't give investigators a clear motive. But when asked whether he was certain the boy was behind the fire, Howell told the newspaper, "Yes, I am."

Winans' mother, Sabrina Jones, screamed at the boy's supporters outside the court Monday.

"My grandkids didn't even see the age of 10," Jones yelled at the crowd as she hurried to her car.

While police have said the boy confessed to setting the blaze, his supporters say he gave in under three days of questioning.

"He was just made a scapegoat for the whole thing," said Burke L. Goines, the boy's uncle. "It's traumatizing to put a 10-year-old boy in a situation like this, to make other people look better in their investigation," Goines said.

"A lot of people know what really happened, and no one will come forward," said Vicky Perez, who described herself as a friend and neighbor of the boy's family.

William Zink, pastor of the New Life Pentecostals of Greenville, said the boy was a regular churchgoer, overcoming difficulties including the death in July of his stepfather from AIDS and what he said was the family's "wild lifestyle."

"It was not just your 'American pie' family," Zink said. He said the boy had no bed and slept on the couch in the duplex.

The boy will now be under house arrest and staying with grandmother Tammy Reed. He will be home-schooled at the grandmother's home, the court said.

A forensic and psychological examination was scheduled for Friday.

The judge Monday did nothing to change the charges against the boy: one juvenile count of arson and five counts of murder. The arson count carries a minimum of one to three years in detention. The murder counts could keep the boy in custody until age 21.

But the boy could be labeled a serious youth offender under Ohio law, which could lead to imprisonment for life.

Zink said the boy is worth saving from the juvenile justice system.


"You can't want a kid to be a scapegoat for something this horrific," he said.

"This little boy got taken away from his family and community," neighbor Perez said. "We just want him to come home." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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