Mass. Arson Case Still in Court After 9 Years

December 11, 2007

Almost nine years after five people died in an arson fire in Lynn, Mass., attorneys are still wrangling over which statements can be used at the trial of the woman charged with setting the blaze.

The state’s highest court has revived the possibility of prosecutors using statements Kathleen Hilton made to a court officer following her arraignment on murder and arson charges.

Hilton allegedly admitted to setting the fire and talked about her motive. She also allegedly told the court officer: “I hope my son forgives me. I could have killed my grandchildren.”

A lower court judge had suppressed the statements, ruling Hilton did not make them voluntarily because of her debilitated mental condition.

But in a ruling last Thursday, the Supreme Judicial Court found that the judge used an incorrect legal standard to make his suppression ruling. The court sent the issue back to the lower court to decide again.

Hilton is charged with five counts of second-degree murder, arson and causing injury to a firefighter in the Feb. 24, 1999, fire.

Prosecutors allege Hilton set the fire to get back at his son’s ex-girlfriend, who lived in the house with the couple’s two children. They survived, but three other children and two adults who also lived in the building died in the fire.

Hilton’s attorney, Michael Natola, said the motive alleged by prosecutors doesn’t make sense.

“Her two grandchildren are in the same apartment with their mother, and she adored those kids,” he said. “It just doesn’t make sense that knowing that the grandchildren were in that building that she would set it on fire.”

Natola said Hilton’s trial has been repeatedly delayed as the defense has battled with prosecutors over which of her statements can be used. Suppression rulings from the lower court have been appealed several times.

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