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Landlord Convicted of Murdering 5

April 24, 1998

NORWALK, Conn. (AP) _ A landlord was convicted Friday of murdering five men in a feud that started with a bounced rent check.

Geoffrey Ferguson, 47, was found guilty of fatally shooting three of his tenants and two of their guests in 1995 and then setting the Redding apartment house on fire to cover up the crime. Each of the men was shot in the head; four of the bodies were burned beyond recognition.

Ferguson faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole. Earlier, prosecutors dropped a bid to seek the death penalty.

The jury took 2 1/2 days to reach a verdict.

The victims were Scott Auerbach, 21; David Froehlich, 22; Jason Trusewicz, 21; David Gartrell, 25; and Sean Hiltunen, 21. Prosecutors said Gartrell and Hiltunen were killed because they happened to be there.

Prosecutors said Ferguson methodically killed the men after the tenants bounced a rent check and complained to authorities about his attempts to evict them.

The defense suggested someone else killed the men, possibly in a drug deal gone bad. According to testimony, the men had used marijuana and had a sawed-off shotgun in their apartment.

In addition, there were no witnesses to the killings, the gun was never found, and most of the physical evidence was destroyed by the fire.

But two tenants testified they saw Ferguson _ a man with a long, gray ponytail _ in or around the house on the day of the murders. And witnesses described a bitter rent dispute that escalated just before the killings.

Three weeks before the murders, the three tenants called police and reported code violations after Ferguson ripped out the toilet and removed their belongings in an attempt to evict them.

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