PITTSBURGH — A man accused of starting a fire that killed six people should get the death penalty, a Pennsylvania prosecutor said, in part because four of the victims were young children and the intended target, the only survivor, had been a police informant.
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. filed notice Tuesday that he'll seek the death penalty against Ryan Williams, 25, of McKeesport.
Williams remains jailed on charges including six counts of criminal homicide and arson stemming from the early morning Oct. 18 fire at the McKeesport home of Keith Egenlauf, who prosecutors contend was the intended target. Williams waived his right to a preliminary hearing last month, meaning he's awaiting trial or must resolve the charges through a plea agreement.
Prosecutors contend Williams had blamed Egenlauf for theft charges that put Williams in jail earlier last year before he entered Egenlauf's unlocked home and set the fire. After a night of drinking, Williams allegedly took money from a wallet in an upstairs bedroom and food from the refrigerator before tossing a burning roll of toilet paper on a couch before leaving the home.
The fire killed Egenlauf's father, Ronald Egenlauf Sr., 55; Keith Egenlauf's 27-year-old wife, Hope Jordan; and her four children, ages 2 through 7. Keith Egenlauf suffered critical burns from which he's still recovering.
In Pennsylvania, a prosecutor must convict a person of a capital crime — in this instance, first-degree murder — and then prove at least one "aggravating circumstance" existed in order to ask a jury to impose the death penalty, instead of the mandatory life prison term the crime otherwise carries.
Zappala cited seven aggravating circumstances that he'll try to prove at trial, including the age of the young victims, Williams' prior convictions and Egenlauf's status as a police informant.
Defense attorney Richard Narvin said he doesn't believe the death penalty is warranted, despite the multiple victims — including children — involved.
"I don't see it being a death penalty case," Narvin said. "I think the DA is equating the size of the tragedy involved with automatically making it a capital case."
Williams has told witnesses he didn't realize there were children in the home when the fire was set, according to a criminal complaint, though investigators have doubts about that because Williams allegedly moved through the home before setting the fire.
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