March 31--PORT ORCHARD -- A first-degree murder charge was filed Monday against a Bremerton woman accused of setting a house fire in February that killed a man with whom she had been in a long-term relationship.
Shelly Margaret Arndt, 45, is being held on $1 million bail. Public defender Charles Ramsdell asked that the bail be lowered to a figure "more reasonable," saying an amount that high wasn't necessary to ensure Arndt would show up for hearings.
"Might as well be no bail," Ramsdell said.
The February blaze occurred at the split-level home of Arndt's twin sister. Seven other people, including three children, were asleep in Arndt's twin sister's house on the 6600 block of Wellington Lane NE at the time of the early morning blaze Feb. 23, court documents said. All escaped except for Darcy Edward Veeder Jr., 37, who had been asleep on a couch upstairs. A coroner's report said Veeder died from smoke inhalation.
When asked March 3 by the Sun if she set the fire, Arndt said no.
"Why would I do that to my niece and nephews and sister?" Arndt asked. She told the Sun she had been asleep on the couch with Veeder and crawled over him to escape. A friend of Veeder's told investigators he tried to rouse Veeder and heard him groan. The friend then made his escape, believing Veeder was behind him.
The county fire marshal ruled the fire was set intentionally, saying adults in the house had access to the downstairs living room and had means to start the fire with "handheld lighters."
Investigators wrote in court documents that Arndt has a history of setting fires when upset, gave shifting explanations of her actions during the early morning blaze, showed deception during a lie-detector test, confessed to a previously uncharged fire and admitted it was possible she set the Wellington Lane fire and didn't remember. Some of those who escaped the fire also said they were woken up and alerted to the fire by Arndt.
"Shelly said she did not start the fire, but if she had, she would kill herself," investigators wrote. "Eventually, Shelly said it was a possibility she started the fire, but she just does not recall."
Arndt said an injury from a car wreck in 1999 left her with memory and concentration problems.
Another person who was in the house told investigators there had been discord between Arndt and Veeder, who were heard discussing a medical bill in the middle of the night hours before the fire. And a neighbor who came to the fire to help told investigators she had to ask Arndt repeatedly if there was anybody left in the house, to which Arndt said Veeder was downstairs.
"She (the neighbor) wondered why no one was panicking or trying to go in after (Veeder)," according to documents.
Arndt was sentenced to nine months in jail for a November 2011 fire at the West Bremerton house she shared with Veeder and his father. During interviews with detectives regarding the Wellington Lane fire, Arndt allegedly confessed to a setting another fire the day before the November 2011 fire. Both fires were directed at Veeder, she told investigators.
"(Arndt) did not want anyone to get hurt in either fire and just stated in was a stupid decision on her part," detectives wrote.
Prosecutors included a second-degree arson charge for the second November 2011 fire, in addition to the first-degree arson charge for the February fire. Investigators also noted in documents further charges of attempted murder may be forthcoming to account for those who survived the fire.
Copyright 2014 - Kitsap Sun, Bremerton, Wash.