CHESTER, Ill.—A 33-year-old man facing murder charges related to a southern Illinois house fire that killed four children is scheduled to be back in court Wednesday.
The murder trial date for Derrick Twardoski may be set during Wednesday's hearing. He pleaded not guilty during his first court appearance in May, 2013.
Twardoski faces four first-degree murder counts linked to the May 10, 2013 blaze in Percy that killed Ethan Owen, 12, Kailey Owen, 9, and Brandon and Landon Owen, who were 5-year-old twins.
In February, a judge in Twardoski’s case agreed to hire an expert to oversee testing of eight potential exhibits. Those items include swabs from a gas cap, gas can, a rag, lighter and cigarette pack.
Prosecutors had said lab testing could destroy some of the potential exhibits. Twardoski’s public defender objected to that prospect.
Twardoski is accused of deliberately setting fire to the home of the Owen family, located in the 800 block of West Almond.
During a brief Randolph County court appearance in May, a judge ordered Twardoski to remain jailed without bond, and assigned him a public defender as attorney.
During that initial court appearance, Twardoski wore a suicide smock without clothes on and only sandals. News 4’s Laura Hettiger said he cried and looked down most of the time while shaking his head.
The county’s state’s attorney, Jeremy Walker, has said he didn’t the fire random, although he has to say why authorities suspect Twardoski set it or whether Twardoski knew anyone who lived in the home.
Randy Dudenbostel, the county coroner, said autopsies showed that the four children apparently died of smoke inhalation. They were found dead in upstairs bedrooms of the two-story home. A 6-year-old child was treated at a hospital for smoke inhalation, and the children’s parents and an 18-year-old woman escaped the fire.