Pa. Arsonist Will Remain in Prison Without Parole

May 24, 2013
The Erie woman set a house fire in 2007 that killed her father.

May 24--The state Superior Court has upheld the sentence of an Erie woman serving life in prison with no chance of parole for killing her father in a deliberately set fire in 2007.

The defendant, Erica Dunston, hoped to win a new sentence with help from a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling related to juveniles serving life in prison for murder.

That case, Miller v. Alabama, held that mandatory life sentences with no chance of parole for juveniles are unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment ban against cruel and unusual punishment.

Dunston, 33, argued the Miller ruling should apply to adults and juveniles alike, but the Superior Court said the ruling opened no new avenue for Dunston to appeal her sentence.

"The new right set forth in Miller applies only to individuals who were under the age 18 when they committed murder," the opinion states. "Dunston was 27 years old when she killed the victim, who was her father."

The court also said Dunston's time for seeking a review of her punishment had expired in July 2011.

Dunston's father, Richard Dunston, 56, was found dead inside his burned house at 337 E. Front St. on March 21, 2007.

The case remained unsolved until January 2010, when police, with the help of an informant, identified Dunston as the person who started the blaze. Police said Dunston told the informant she set the fire and wanted her father's house to burn, but not for him to die.

Once arrested, Dunston immediately confessed, telling police that she started the fire after her father got in a verbal argument with her girlfriend, police said.

Dunston mounted no defense. She pleaded guilty in June 2010 to the main charges, second-degree murder, or a homicide committed during a felony, and the first-degree felony of arson.

Dunston received the mandatory sentence for second-degree murder, which is life in state prison with no parole.

LISA THOMPSON can be reached at 870-1802 or by e-mail. Follow her on Twitter at

Copyright 2013 - Erie Times-News, Pa.

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