Cops: Punished Tenn. Teen Set Blaze That Killed Mom

April 9, 2013
A day after Johnathan Ray was told he couldn't see his girlfriend, he allegedly used gas and set fire at the base of a stairway blocking his mother's escape.

April 09--A day after a 14-year-old's mother told him he couldn't see his girlfriend as punishment for trouble at school, the teen used gasoline to ignite a fire at the base of a staircase that would block her escape from the family's second floor Friday, according to police records and sources.

Johnathan Ray was due in Shelby County Juvenile Court for a bond hearing Monday afternoon on charges of first-degree murder and aggravated arson for the blaze at the family's Hickory Hill home, where his mother died. But the youth, who was not injured in the fire, remained at Saint Francis Hospital for undisclosed reasons. He had been taken there from the juvenile jail Saturday, when his stepfather, security guard James Wallace, visited him, his attorneys said during a court hearing.

Wallace was at court Monday, discussing the case with defense attorneys and a court psychologist. Officials wouldn't say whether the teen was on suicide watch.

Ray's biological father, whom neighbors said lives out of town, was not in court.

During the brief hearing, magistrate David Ferguson appointed the county public defender's office to represent the teen. He also said attorneys need to identify Ray's legal guardian since he had been living with his mother, Gwendolyn Wallace, and his stepfather.

Robert Gowen, an assistant public defender, and chief public defender Stephen Bush represented Ray at the hearing. Once the teen is released from the hospital, which court officials said could happen soon, he will have a bond hearing within 48 hours.

Neighbors reported seeing flames engulfing the home at Bethay and Shelby Drive just after 6 a.m. Friday Firefighters used ladders to reach Ray's 45-year-old mother, a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, after the stairs were destroyed.

According to an affidavit, Ray said he had argued with his mother the night before the fire.

Ray's stepfather said Ray, a football standout, had been suspended from Southwind High School for "running his mouth." Ray's mother was upset and decided to forbid him from seeing his girlfriend for two weekends, according to an affidavit.

Investigators said in the court document that: "Jonathan admitted that he went to the garage of the residence and retrieved a gas can, walked back inside the residence and poured the gas out onto the stairs that led to the second floor," which "would have been the only point of exit."

Then, he "lit the stairway on fire with a lighter he found in the kitchen."

The teen, the affidavit alleges, also poured more gasoline on the living room floor near the kitchen and lit a fire there before leaving. Neighbors later saw him standing on a sidewalk outside the house.

Copyright 2013 - The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn.

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