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Judge Sends Two Mothers to Jail in House Fire That Killed Eight Children

January 14, 1987

BAMBERG, S.C. (AP) _ A judge sentenced two sisters to 15-month prison terms after they were convicted Wednesday of neglect charges stemming from a house fire last month that killed eight unsupervised children.

Circuit Judge Rodney Peeples told sisters Wonder Jean Anderson and Carolyn Annette Porter he hoped that the tragedy would deter other parents from leaving their children alone.

″It’s a sad, sad commentary,″ Peeples said. ″Everyone recognizes that there’s nothing more valuable than human life. Eight lives have been needlessly lost forever.″

Peeples also ordered the women to receive ″mental help and treatment.″

The blaze, which killed eight of 11 children in the house, began when one of the youths tried to rekindle a fire in a wood-burning stove with diesel fuel, said Richard Corley, a special agent in charge of the South Carolina Arson Team.

Three of the children killed were those of Ms. Porter, 20, and three were those of Ms. Anderson, 27. The other two children were those of Sandy Porter, also a sister of the two women. She was not charged.

Ms. Anderson, 27, and Ms. Porter, 20, were convicted on three counts each in the deaths of their children.

The jury could not reach a verdict in the case of the third defendant, James W. McMillan Jr., 40, who was charged with one count of neglect. McMillan was the father of one of Ms. Anderson’s children.

McMillan did not take the witness stand, nor did his attorney call any witnesses in his behalf.

When she was sentenced, Ms. Anderson told Peeples she was sorry. ″If there was anything I could do to change what happened, I would.″

″The same thing goes for me,″ Ms. Porter added. ″I want the whole court to know that I loved my kids.″

During the daylong trial Tuesday, witnesses testified that the defendants told authorities they left the youngsters alone to visit nightclubs the night of the blaze.

The two mothers testified they’d made arrangements for the children, ranging in age from 2 to 11, to go next door to the home of McMillan’s father - a double amputee confined to a wheelchair - as soon as they finished watching a television program.

Ms. Anderson said she told her oldest son, 11-year-old Darroll Anderson, to take the children next door, and ″he said he would.″

Under cross-examination, however, she said the children had been taught to pour diesel fuel on the fire ″to build it up.″

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