Woman ordered to stand trial in Homewood fire that killed 3
April 21, 2017 11:40 AM
Allegheny County police
By Paula Reed Ward / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A woman accused of setting a fire in Homewood last year that killed three people in the house where she was staying will stand trial on all the counts against her.
Latoya Lyerly, 44, is charged with three counts of homicide and aggravated arson, as well as risking a catastrophe stemming from the Feb. 17, 2016, blaze at 1517 N. Lang Ave.
Killed in the blaze were Darlyn Vance, 73, Calvin Turner, 56, and Gerald Johnson, 68. They died from smoke inhalation and suffered severe burns.
Ms. Lyerly told police she had been staying at the house for a few weeks, earning her keep by cooking and cleaning for Mr. Vance, who was referred to as “Daddy.”
At a preliminary hearing Friday morning before Magisterial District Judge Dan Butler, Detective Artie Patterson said Ms. Lyerly confessed to her just a few hours after the fire.
Ms. Lyerly caught the attention of detectives at the scene when they saw her screaming and crying in front of news cameras that had gathered. Detective Christopher Kertis said “it looked like a show.”
She was taken to police headquarters about 9:45 a.m. — a few hours after the fire was reported — and at first spoke to detectives Kertis and Hal Bolin. She told them that she and Mr. Vance had an argument the night before about her radio being too loud, and that she told him then she was going to burn the house down.
The next morning, she said she woke up about 6 a.m. and lit a cigarette. It fell on the bed, Ms. Lyerly told detectives, and she left the house without telling anyone. While she was gone, she said she heard sirens in the neighborhood and was then told by a friend the house where she’d been staying was on fire.
As those detectives concluded their questioning of Ms. Lyerly, Detective Patterson walked past the interview room and made eye contact with her. The investigator said Ms. Lyerly asked to speak with her and said she’d tell her “the whole story.”
Ms. Lyerly refused to be recorded but told Detective Patterson that she believed everyone in the house was “evil and had to die, especially Daddy.”
“She said all they did was shoot dope, smoke crack and have sex,” Detective Patterson testified.
She continued that Ms. Lyerly claimed to have heard voices telling her to “start the mission,” which was burning down the house. Ms. Lyerly went to the kitchen, and using coffee filters, set the couch on fire. Ms. Lyerly then said she walked out of the house.
Pittsburgh arson investigator Michael Burns had testified earlier that accelerant was used in the fire — and the county’s arson dog hit on five spots in the house. Cans of kerosene and gasoline were found on the steps leading down to the basement, he said.
Defense attorney Andrew Capone argued that the prosecution can’t base its case on his client’s confession — which is the only thing he said that points toward Ms. Lyerly’s guilt — and at the same time claim there was accelerant used, which she did not say.
“They can’t have it both ways,” he argued.
But assistant district attorney Lisa Pellegrini disagreed, arguing that the prosecution met its burden.
The judge agreed. The next step will be formal arraignment in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.
Paula Reed Ward: email@example.com, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter: @PaulaReedWard.