ARCADIA — Emotions ran high Tuesday for the second day of the DeSoto County trial of Marian Evette Williams.
Williams, 53, has been accused of starting the house fire that killed three boys — Marcus, 10, Kiani, 8, and Kemaren Clark, 4 — in Arcadia in March 2017.
The boy’s grandfather, Arnold Mele, and Theresa Redding, with whom Mele had a relationship, both escaped the fire that night.
Both Redding, 55, and Mele, 60, were called as witnesses by the state on Tuesday morning.
Williams is facing three charges of premeditated murder. Prosecutors have also charged her with the attempted homicide of Mele and Redding, as well as charges of arson, burglary along with burglary with assault or battery.
Williams’ defense attorney, Daniel Hernandez, tried to bring doubt to the case, proposing that the boys might have been playing with matches or a lighter.
He also suggested that Theresa Redding, who was in the house at the time, set the fire to frame Williams, since she and Williams had both been romantically involved with Mele.
“You wanted Williams out of the way because you wanted Mele,” he said.
An aggravated Redding responded.
“Don’t do that. You ain’t going to trick me like that,” Redding said.
“Are you the one who set the home on fire?” Hernandez asked Redding.
“That’s a joke, right?” Redding said. “No.”
Hernandez then asked Mele if he thought the boys could be playing with matches.
“Would it be correct to say that you were not supervising the boys everyday, every minute that they were at your house?” he asked.
Mele, who had the aid of a Haitian-Creole translator, said he is always paying attention to them.
Hernandez asked if Mele had matches around the house.
“No,” Mele said.
He also asked if it were possible the boys had gotten a hold of Redding’s lighter, since she was a smoker.
Mele, again, said, “No.”
“Those children were my heart,” Mele said.
“That was my family,” said Redding, while wiping away tears.
Prosecutor Karen Fraivillig asked Redding to recount a situation that occurred the night before the fire, March 9, when Williams allegedly broke into the home and attacked Mele.
“I woke up and Marian was coming through the bedroom door,” Redding said. “First thing she did was say ‘I’m coming to get him, not coming for you.’”
Redding said she and Williams had altercations in the past and had known each other since they were kids.
“She came over and I got up (and) she grabbed him in like a choke hold.”
Redding went on to say that Williams was “pummeling” Mele as she went outside to call 911.
Arcadia Police arrested Williams on the charge of burglary with assault or battery. She bonded out the next day.
As a result of those events, Redding said Mele boarded up the windows and doors to prevent Williams from getting into the house.
Redding said later that night she and Mele were both sleeping in the master bedroom of the house.
She said she smelled the smoke and ran to the door to open it, but it was hot, so she woke up Mele.
“He got up and went to the door and snatched the door open,” Redding said.
She followed him out of the room because she couldn’t see from the smoke.
Redding said the two separated as Mele went to get his grandchildren.
When asked if she could hear any voices, Redding said she could here Marcus, whose nickname was “Doodle,” call for Mele twice.
“’Grandad? Grandad?’ And then it was silent after that,” she said.
Redding told prosecutors she was able to escape the house through a window air-conditioning unit.
Mele said he wasn’t able to find the children when he came out of the room.
“I was looking for the children (but) I could not see the children,” he said. “I jumped out of the window (with help from Redding).”
Mele spent four days in the hospital with burns to his face, head, arms and legs.
He also told prosecutors that the skin was burned “completely off of his head.”
“It looked like a pork chop thing you sell at the store,” Mele said.
The trial continues Wednesday at the DeSoto County Court House.