Man pleads guilty to setting fatal Carolina Beach fires
Posted August 4, 2016 10:47 a.m. EDT
Updated August 4, 2016 6:04 p.m. EDT
Wilmington, N.C. — A Kure Beach man avoided a possible death sentence by pleading guilty Thursday to setting a series of fires in Carolina Beach two years ago that killed two people.
Marshall Hudson Doran, 24, pleaded guilty to two counts each of first-degree murder and first-degree arson and was sentenced to consecutive terms of life in prison without the possibility for parole.
Doran faced more than three dozen charges in the Dec. 6, 2014, fires at two condominium complexes in Carolina Beach. Darlene Ann Maslar, 43, Mary Angeline Cochran, 72, and their pets died in one of the fires, which destroyed 12 beachfront condominiums.
Other charges against Doran were dismissed as part of a plea deal, which also headed off a possible death sentence. Prosecutors had planned to pursue a capital case against him.
"We don't prosecute monsters. We prosecute ordinary people who sometimes do monstrous things, and when they do, the punishment can be so severe that the only thing left is incarceration for the rest of their lives," New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David said after the court hearing.
David said the fire victims and the families of Maslar and Cochran agreed to the plea deal.
"While it does not bring our Mother or the other lives back that were taken, justice has been served today," Cochran's family said in a statement.
"We are devastated by Darlene’s death. She was a caring person who loved life and all of those around her. We are grateful that Darlene received justice today," Maslar's family said in a statement.
Barb O'Steen, who escaped the fire but lost her home, called Doran a "terrorist" and a "menace to society" and said she now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
"It was the longest 15 minutes of my life. I stood there and watched as my sweet beach home was burnt to the ground," O'Steen said. "I lost my home, my memories, my car, my things. I almost lost my life. I could be deceased. All because you set my house on fire. You tried to murder me."
Security cameras on Lake Park Boulevard captured a timeline of Doran's movements that night, David said, and the fires were started in cars under the condos and then spread to the structures, according to WECT-TV, an NBC affiliate in Wilmington. Authorities could see Cochran banging on a window and screaming for help, David said, but firefighters couldn't find her before being forced out of the building by flames.
"We often use the term hero lightly," David said. "I was there that night. I was called when the first fire was set. I watched what the men and women around me did, and I can tell you that the fatalities would have been worse if not for their heroism."
Defense attorney Doug Kingsbery of Raleigh said Doran had suffered eight concussions – the latest in 2013 – and referenced chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a progressive degenerative brain disease found people, most notably football players and other athletes, with a history of repetitive brain trauma. Kingsbery said Doran doesn't remember setting the fires – or anything else from that night – and a psychiatrist concluded that a brain injury along with alcohol – his blood-alcohol content was later measured at 0.16 – led to the crimes.
"We will forever mourn the lives that were lost and injured," Doran's family said in a statement. "We continue to send our love and prayers to the victims, the families, the loved ones and everyone in our community that was affected by this tragedy."
Doran also faces two counts of felony death by motor vehicle in Wake County, where he was arrested in February 2014 in the hit-and-run deaths of two men helping a stranded motorist on Interstate 40. He is expected to plead guilty in that case on Aug. 22.