August 6, 2014

Fatal arson: Man guilty of murder in house fire that killed four children

A 34-year-old Perry County man has been found guilty of first-degree murder in connection with a house fire that killed four children last year.

Derrick J. Twardoski, 34, last known address of Cutler, appeared before Judge Richard Brown on Wednesday at the Randolph County Courthouse in Chester. Twardoski waived his right to a jury trial. A stipulation of facts sufficient to convict Twardoski of setting fire to a home in Percy, which caused the death of 9-year-old Kailey Owen, was presented to Brown.

The fire also took the lives of siblings Ethan Owen, 12, Brandon Owen, 5, and Landon Owen, 5. Brandon and Landon were twins. The children's mother, father and an 18-year-old girl escaped from the house unharmed.

Authorities did not release other details about the crime, including the motive.

"Certainly we are pleased to secure a conviction in this case," Randolph County State's Attorney Jeremy Walker said in a released statement. "While we were confident taking our case to trial, the family of the victims and myself elected to remove natural life as a possible penalty to avoid the heartbreak and reliving the tragic events of May 10, 2013."

Walker said the Owen family supported the deal where Twardoski would plead guilty to one count of murder.

"From day one, I told the Owens' I would only negotiate a plea in their case if I had their 100 percent support in doing so," he said. "A big factor in the decision of the family was to avoid at least three juveniles (including their surviving child and the child of the defendant) from having to testify at trial and to avoid the horrific crime scene photographs being viewed by family members and friends."

Twardoski has been jailed without bond since his arrest on May 10, 2013, and will remain at Randolph County Jail until his sentencing hearing Oct. 3. He faces a maximum of 60 years in prison.

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