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Fairfield Moms To Stand Trial In Death Of Four Children

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Latisha James

Latisha James during a previous court appearance. (CBS)

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FAIRFIELD (BCN) – Two Fairfield mothers will stand trial for the deaths of their four young children, who were killed in a fire at their apartment in April, a Solano County Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday.

Judge Peter B. Foor held sisters Shetarra James, 24, and Latisha James, 23, for trial late Wednesday afternoon at the conclusion of a two-day preliminary hearing.

Both face four counts each of child endangerment and involuntary manslaughter, Solano County Deputy District Attorney Karen Jensen said.

Shetarra James also faces second-degree murder charges.

Jensen said she asked the judge to hold both women to answer to
child endangerment, involuntary manslaughter and murder charges. Both women were initially charged with involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment causing death.

The women will be arraigned on the charges Friday morning.

Fire investigators said the fire, which started about 9 p.m. on April 28 at 728 Delaware St., was likely caused by three candles that were left burning in the living room of the apartment while the children’s mothers were outside.

Fairfield fire Capt. Brad Martin testified Tuesday that it is possible one of the children’s shirts was lit on fire by the candles and that the child spread the flames by running through the apartment.

A detective who testified at the preliminary hearing, Fairfield police Sgt. Rob Lenke, said that after the fire, the two sisters gave different accounts of what had happened.

He said Shetarra James had told him she and her sister were inside the apartment with the children when a wall heater caught fire, and that the women had panicked and run outside.

Lenke also testified that Latisha James had told him the sisters had left the apartment to go charge their phones in a laundry room because their electricity had been shut off. He said James told him she had thought her sister had blown out the candles, which they were using for light.

Testimony at the preliminary hearing also indicated that Latisha James went back into the apartment to try to save the children, who were between 18 months and 4 years old, but suffered smoke inhalation and burns and retreated.

Amy Morton, the attorney for Shetarra James, said she was not surprised Latisha James was held to answer to involuntary manslaughter and not a murder charge because she relied on Shetarra James to take care of the children while she was outside.

Morton said her client could get 60 years to life if convicted of all charges, and Latisha James could face 22 years in prison.

There were conflicting statements to police about how long the women were outside the apartment that night.

Shetarra James lost two daughters and a son and Latisha James lost a daughter in the blaze.

“These girls loved their babies,” Morton said.

A pathologist testified Tuesday the children were alive when the fire started and they died of smoke inhalation and burns.

(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News contributed to this report.)

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