Trial to begin for man accused of killing 6 in S.C. hotel fire

Monday, July 16, 2007
This undated photo provided by the Spartanburg County jail shows Eric Hans. Hans is facing a federal arson charge from a fire at a Greenville, S.C. hotel in January 2004. Hans, 37, is charged with one count of arson resulting in the death of six people. (AP Photo/Spartanburg County jail)

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Brenda Brazell still remembers waking to the screams of "Help! My baby!" and then desperately searching a smoke-filled hotel hallway for her son and granddaughter, who were staying a few rooms away.

Brazell's family survived, but the crying woman and her baby boy were among the six guests who died in the early morning hotel blaze in Greenville in 2004.

Jury selection is to begin Monday for Eric Preston Hans, who is charged with one federal count of arson resulting in death.

"If he's guilty, he needs to fry. That baby is what upset me so bad," said Brazell, 60. "We're all hurting, but that poor baby didn't have a chance in the world."

The trial is likely to run into August. If Hans is found guilty, the same jury would hear more testimony to determine whether he should die.

Hans, 37, has maintained his innocence since he was first questioned Jan. 25, 2004, the day after the fire, according to statements given to police.

On the night of the fire at the Comfort Inn, Brazell and her then-teenage daughter were in a room across the hall from Melba Leshawn Canty, 21, and her 15-month-old son, Jaden.

Around 4 a.m., Canty ran into the hall begging for help because she couldn't find her boy in the smoke.

Prosecutors accuse Hans of starting the fire on the third floor near the rear stairwell to kill Canty. Brazell says investigators told her that Hans had a feud with Canty's boyfriend, Zachary Cromer, who was in the room with Canty and the baby.

Cromer escaped by breaking a window and jumping several feet to an overhang, suffering serious injuries. Ten more guests also were injured and many of the other 46 registered guests rushed into the freezing rain in pajamas. Some shattered windows and waited for firefighters or climbed down bed sheets.

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