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Baltimore Man Admits Setting Deadly Fire

August 27, 2003

BALTIMORE (AP) _ A man pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges that he set a fire that killed a family of seven, a blaze investigators said was in retaliation for a woman’s calls to police to report drug dealing.

Darrell Brooks, 22, admitted setting the fire that killed Angela and Carnell Dawson and their five children last October.

In return for his guilty plea, Dawson is expected to be sentenced to life in prison without parole, and to be spared a possible death sentence.

The killings had underscored the severity of city’s notoriously violent drug crime. Police say 35 calls had been made from the Dawsons’ address to emergency dispatchers between June 26 and Oct. 16 of 2002. Carnell Dawson had also chased drug dealers off his front stoop.

U.S. District Judge Marvin Garbis, who did not immediately accept the guilty plea, was expected to hear testimony from the victims’ friends and relatives before sentencing.

It was not immediately clear which counts were covered by Brooks’ plea. He had been charged with seven counts of arson resulting in death, as well as several charges relating to an earlier fire at the Dawson home.

The fire on Oct. 16 killed Angela Dawson, 36, and children Keith and Kevin Dawson, 9; Carnell Dawson Jr., 10; Juan Ortiz, 12; and LaWanda Ortiz, 14.

Carnell Dawson, 43, died a week later of burns over 80 percent of his body. He had jumped out of an upstairs window during the fire.

The house had been firebombed almost two weeks before the fatal fire, but the family escaped injury that time when Carnell Dawson ran downstairs and extinguished a Molotov cocktail thrown through the kitchen window.

Brooks, a neighbor of the Dawsons, had a long record of arrests involving robbery, assault and drug charges. Weeks before the fatal fire, he had been charged with robbing a pizza deliveryman at gunpoint.

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