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Trial Begins in Worst Ever Raleigh Arson

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Firefighters say the blaze was extremely intense.
RALEIGH — Angela Wilder took the witness stand Tuesdayin the trial of the man accused of setting a fire that killed four of herchildren. Defense attorneys attempted to discredit her story that it washer former boyfriend who set the fire. Unfortunately, her testimony mayhave done more harm than good for the prosecution.

Statements she made to police soon after the fire, implicating heruncle, Ronald Wilson, in the arson, came back to haunt her, casting doubton her accusations against 24-year-old Jermain Smith.

It's been almost twoyearssince three of Wilder's children died in the fire at her Heritage ParkApartment. A fourth child died three months later from injuries sustainedwhile trying to escape the fire. Police later charged Wilder'sboyfriend with Raleigh's deadliest case of arson.

Smith's capital murder trial began Monday in aRaleigh courtroom. Smith is an auto mechanic who also lived in theapartment complex where the fire burned into the night in early February,1996.

Neighbors testified they will never forget that night or the sound ofa pregnant mother screaming that her children were trapped inside theburning apartment. Wilder's daughters Chastity, 9, Ashley, 6, and Shatona,3, all died in the fire. Her son Rogedrick, 4, who earlier had stood ina window until the heat drove him out of it, died three months later fromthe injuries he suffered in the fall.

Capt. D.W. Boyette of the Raleigh Fired Department testified Tuesdaythat it was one of the most intense fires he ever experienced.

In the afternoon, Wilder herself took the stand. She said she wasn'tsure, when asked if Smith had loved her children.

Smith was arrested onFebruary 16 and charged with arson and murder. Hecould receive the death penalty if convicted.

The jury consists of five women and seven men with four alternates.

Prosecutors say Smith committed the deadliest arson ever seen inRaleigh. They say Wilder had refused to marry Smith, and that heset fire to the apartment in the anger of rejection. Defense attorneys saythe wrong man is on trial.

Wilder, who gave birth to her ninth child last month, sits in the frontrow of the courtroom. Smith's family has also been present

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