Family defends Calif. man charged in 1989 NH fire deaths, says police never sought him

By Holly Ramer, AP
Thursday, July 1, 2010

Family defends man charged in 1989 NH fire deaths

CONCORD, N.H. — A woman who survived a deadly 1989 apartment-house fire in New Hampshire says the California man charged with murder this week in the deaths of four of her neighbors told her that night, “I did a good job, didn’t I?”

David McLeod made the comment shortly after the fire that killed newlyweds Carl and Lori Hina, their baby and Hina’s 12-year-old daughter in Keene, Elizabeth Kennedy told The Associated Press on Thursday.

McLeod, 53, was arrested Wednesday in West Sacramento, Calif., where he has lived for 15 years. It was the first arrest for the cold case unit created in New Hampshire last year to investigate more than 100 unsolved homicides and suspicious deaths.

In a statement released by his sister, McLeod’s family members said Thursday they are convinced he was not involved.

“David survived the fire, and like others who live through such a tragic event, often thought about those who perished,” the family said.

Authorities won’t say why McLeod — who had once lived in the building and was a suspect at the time— wasn’t arrested until now. According to police affidavits unsealed two weeks after the fire, other residents told police that McLeod had talked about burning down the building earlier that night and bragged about having “torched” it afterward.

The residents said McLeod may have held grudges against male residents for having relationships with his former girlfriend, who also lived in the eight-unit building. Kennedy declined to talk in detail about McLeod, but said he did not know the Hinas very well.

“We all suspected him because of the way he acted, the way he was,” she said. “That night, he came up to me and my boyfriend at the time and said, ‘I did a good job, didn’t I?’”

Kennedy and her boyfriend — now her husband — were playing cribbage in their second-floor apartment around 2 a.m. Jan. 14, 1989, when they heard a thump in the hall and someone yell, “Fire! I’m not kidding!” Her boyfriend went to the fire escape to call 911 while she went next door to the Hinas apartment. She said she tried to help 12-year-old Sara Hina escape, but the girl went back into the apartment to her family.

“It was horrible,” said Kennedy, who said 4-month-old Lillian Hina was her goddaughter. Carl Hina was a taxi driver who worked hard to support his family, she said.

“They were very nice people,” said Kennedy, one of 15 people to survive the fire.

The state fire marshal’s office initially concluded that the fire was an accident, saying a woman fell asleep on a couch with a cigarette. Two weeks later, investigators said the fire started with an open flame, but stopped short of calling it arson. A month after the fire, a prosecutors said she expected no arrests would be made.

Prosecutors also said at the time that the credibility of witnesses in the case had not been established.

Senior Assistant Attorney General William Delker, who oversees the cold case unit, said McLeod left New Hampshire soon after the fire. McLeod’s family said he left to pursue a job in Arizona after he had trouble finding work in New Hampshire and that he led a public life, eventually marrying, moving to California and raising a family. The family said he worked in construction until he suffered a disability on a job site.

“Our family is hopeful that New Hampshire authorities will sort out what we feel is a misunderstanding,” the family said.

McLeod was ordered held without bail after an extradition hearing Wednesday. Delker said it could take up to 90 days to have him returned ton New Hampshire to face charges. McLeod was represented by the California public defender’s office at the hearing, but a receptionist said Thursday he had not yet been assigned a specific attorney.

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