Suspect in fatal fire pleads not guilty to murder charges

Associated PressMay 13, 2013 

— A man with a long criminal history pleaded not guilty to murder charges Monday in the deaths of four children in a fire at their home in Southern Illinois.

Derrick Twardoski, 33, is charged with four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of the children in last week's fire in Percy, a village about 60 miles southeast of St. Louis. During a brief Randolph County court appearance, a judge ordered Twardoski to remain jailed without bond, assigned him an attorney and scheduled a June 3 preliminary hearing.

The county's state's attorney, Jeremy Walker, has said he doesn't consider Friday's fire random, although he has declined to say why authorities suspect Twardoski set it or whether Twardoski knew anyone who lived in the home.

Walker and Randolph County Sheriff Mike Hoelscher didn't immediately respond to phone messages seeking comment Monday.

Randy Dudenbostel, the county coroner, told The Associated Press on Monday that autopsies showed that the four children - siblings ages 12, 9, and 5-year-old twins - apparently died of smoke inhalation. They were found dead in upstairs bedrooms of the two-story home.

Dudenbostel declined to discuss the deaths further because of the ongoing criminal case.

A 6-year-old survived and was treated for smoke inhalation, and the children's parents and an 18-year-old woman managed to escape the fire.

Twardoski, who doesn't have a listed home telephone number, has had legal troubles for years in the region, including convictions in Illinois' St. Clair County of criminal trespassing, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, burglary, fighting, driving under the influence and various other traffic offenses, court records show. In nearby Clinton County, his convictions include charges of mob action and battery.

Visitations for the four children were scheduled for later Monday, and their funerals were scheduled for Tuesday at a church the family attended in Steeleville.

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