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Murder conviction in ’06 Brockton arson case overturned

The state’s highest court has overturned the first-degree murder conviction of a woman who set fire to a curtain in a Brockton apartment building, igniting a blaze that killed one resident and injured several others.

The Supreme Judicial Court said Tuesday in the case of Chiteara M. Thomas that a lower court judge should have suppressed some statements Thomas made to police after the July 6, 2006, fire.

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The court, in the opinion written by Chief Justice Ralph Gants, said prosecutors could either accept a reduction of the conviction to second-degree murder or see the conviction vacated and proceed to a new trial.

The court also threw out Thomas’s attempted murder convictions and ordered a new trial, but affirmed her conviction of arson in a dwelling house.

Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz’s office said it would retry Thomas, 30, on the murder and attempted murder charges.

“This was a horrific fire that left victims, including small children, jumping from a burning building to save their lives. There was overwhelming evidence that this defendant acted with deliberate premeditation to kill, including setting fire to a house filled with women and children at five o’clock in the morning,” Cruz said in a statement.

State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan said in the statement, “We disagree with the court’s decision and applaud the District Attorney’s decision to retry this case.”

Thomas, at the time of the fire, was a 22-year-old homeless woman. She and her boyfriend were staying at a “drug house,” when the woman renting the apartment on the first floor told her to move out. Thomas was angry and allegedly set the building on fire in a rage, the court said, summarizing the evidence presented at trial.

Olinda Calderon, 28, who lived on the third floor of the Montello Street building with her one-month-old baby, died in the fire, authorities said.

The court ruled 6-0. Former Chief Justice Roderick Ireland participated in the deliberation before his retirement. Gants took over as chief justice in late July.

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