Man to stand trial in deaths of five children in Ill. house fire

By The Associated Press

QUINCY, Ill. – A parolee who police say confessed to setting an April fire that killed five children in this Mississippi River town must stand trial on murder and arson charges, an Adams County judge ruled.

Zachary Meeks, 27, was bound over for trial Monday after a preliminary hearing before Judge Scott Walden, during which an investigator testified that Meeks admitted setting the blaze early April 15 after dousing the house’s front and back porches with gasoline.

Meeks is jailed without bond on 15 first-degree murder counts, three for each of the dead children. His arraignment on those charges, as well as two arson counts, was set for Aug. 31.

Quincy police Detective Adam Yates, the only witness to testify during Monday’s hearing, said Meeks was picked up as a “person of interest” about five hours after the blaze that killed Kendall Edwards, 10, Althea Clark, 9, Cameron Clark, 5, Khalil Clark, 3, and Kejuan Clark, 5 months.

All died of smoke inhalation, a coroner said. Authorities have said the children’s parents were not home when the blaze was reported.

Yates said Meeks, who showed up at an acquaintance’s home “smelling like gasoline,” initially denied involvement but admitted starting the fire after being confronted with evidence uncovered by investigators.

Meeks said he was unaware children were inside the home when he poured the fuel outside the home’s entrances and lit the liquid with a lighter, Yates said.

In his police report, Yates wrote that Meeks had separate altercations before the blaze with the children’s father and a relative of their mother. One of the disputes was at a Quincy casino, and Meeks was seen leaving there about 2:20 a.m. Sunday, about 40 minutes before the blaze was reported, Yates said.

About 2:45 a.m., a clerk at the One Stop convenience store saw Meeks pour gasoline into a milk jug and “some other type of container,” then pay in cash as a security camera recorded the transaction, Yates reported.

In June, a Quincy psychologist found Meeks mentally fit by to stand trial. Another evaluation is scheduled for Aug. 24, said Edward Downey, Meeks’ public defender.

Meeks was released from an Illinois prison in December after serving time on a four-year sentence for a 2005 drug conviction, with his parole to run through December 2008. He previously had served prison time for aggravated battery.