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Federal murder charges filed in deadly arson case

Thursday, December 12, 2002

BALTIMORE -- Federal prosecutors filed seven charges of murder-by-arson against a man Wednesday for a blaze police say was set in retaliation against a mother crusading against neighborhood drug dealers.

The charges against Darrell Brooks, 21, carry the death penalty, though prosecutors said they have not decided whether to pursue it.

"If you firebomb a house and you kill seven people -- if that's not a federal case, what is?" U.S. Attorney Thomas DiBiagio said. "Seven people were burned alive in their home."

Angela Dawson and her five children died when fire tore through their three-story rowhouse Oct. 16. Dawson's husband, Carnell Dawson, was burned over 80 percent of his body and died a week later.

Police said Brooks set the blaze in retaliation for the family's repeated complaints about area drug dealers.

The 10-count indictment charges Brooks with seven counts of arson resulting in death and other charges related to an earlier fire at the Dawson home.

Baltimore prosecutor Patricia Jessamy, whose office filed the state charges, said she supports the death penalty in this case.

"The death penalty should be reserved for the most heinous crimes," Jessamy said. "You can't get any more heinous than this crime."

Because of the federal charges, Brooks' earlier state charges are scheduled to be dismissed Thursday at a hearing in Baltimore. DiBiagio said it could be a year before the federal trial begins.

In addition to Angela, 36, and Carnell Dawson, 43, the fire claimed the lives of Keith and Kevin Dawson, 9; Carnell Dawson Jr., 10; Juan Ortiz, 12; and LaWanda Ortiz, 14.


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