CHESTER, Ill.—A 33-year-old man facing murder charges related to a southern Illinois house fire that killed four children appeared in court for a status hearing on Thursday.
Derrick Twardoski pleaded not guilty during his first court appearance in May. His next court date is scheduled for Dec. 19.
Officials say his murder trial will likely begin in March 2014.
Randolph County prosecutors in May charged Derrick Twardoski with four first-degree murder counts linked to the May 10 blaze in Percy that killed Ethan Owen, 12, Kailey Owen, 9, and Brandon and Landon Owen, who were 5-year-old twins.
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, 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.
Dudenbostel declined to discuss the deaths further because of the ongoing criminal case.
Twardoski, who doesn’t have a listed home telephone number, has had legal troubles for years in the region, including convictions in Illinois’ St. Clair County of criminal trespassing, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, burglary, fighting, driving under the influence and various other traffic offenses, court records show. In nearby Clinton County, his convictions include charges of mob action and battery.
Contributions to the victims’ family can be made at First National Bank, located at 304 W. Main Street in Ava, Ill.