Local News

Trial Begins in Worst Ever Raleigh Arson

Posted October 14, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— Angela Wilder took the witness stand Tuesday in the trial of the man accused of setting a fire that killed four of her children. Defense attorneys attempted to discredit her story that it was her former boyfriend who set the fire. Unfortunately, her testimony may have done more harm than good for the prosecution.

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

It's been almost two years since three of Wilder's children died in the fire at her Heritage Park Apartment. A fourth child died three months later from injuries sustained while trying to escape the fire. Police later charged Wilder's boyfriend with Raleigh's deadliest case of arson.

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

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

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

In the afternoon, Wilder herself took the stand. She said she wasn't sure, when asked if Smith had loved her children.

Smith was arrested on February 16 and charged with arson and murder. He could 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 in Raleigh. They say Wilder had refused to marry Smith, and that he set fire to the apartment in the anger of rejection. Defense attorneys say the wrong man is on trial.

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