PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – A man accused of setting a fire that killed six people in McKeesport pleaded guilty Thursday morning.
“Maybe it’s time to forgive and move on,” said Dawn Emery, sister-in-law of the victim. “Just let God and our faith take care of that par.”
She was reacting to 26-year-old Ryan Williams’ guilty plea to murder and arson charges in exchange for prosecutors withdrawing the death penalty. A death sentence was likely, according to Williams’ attorney.
“They had overwhelming aggravating factors,” said defense attorney Patrick Thomassey. “Like seven aggravating factors. In a normal capital case, you might get one or two.”
Williams will serve two life sentences plus 13½ to 27 years.
Ryan Williams pleads guilty to first and second degree murder and arson in McKeesport fatal fire avoiding death penalty
— Harold Hayes (@hhayes_harold) March 10, 2016
He’s accused of setting a fire at a house on Express Alley in McKeesport in 2014 that claimed six lives.
The victims include Ronald Egenlauf, who was confined to a wheelchair, Hope Egenlauf, and her children, Dominic Jordan, 7; Autumn Jordan, 6; Serenity Jakub, 3; and Victoria Jordan, 2.
Prosecutors said Keith Egenlauf, who survived the fire, was the target because he implicated Williams in a burglary case. Authorities say Williams set the house on fire for revenge using the cardboard from a toilet paper roll to set a couch on fire.
Some family members said they didn’t think Williams should face the death penalty.
“No, I think that’s the easy way out,” said Dawn McPherson, Hope’s sister and the aunt of the children. “I mean, I want him to think about what he did day after day. He took their lives, but he took his as well.”
She also says a teaching from a nationally-known evangelist helped her cope.
“You get so consumed. Every day you’re waking up you’re bitter. You’re helpless. There’s nothing you can do. You look at your loved ones and you might be having a good day and they’re having a bad day, and it’s just an everyday emotional rollercoaster, and I couldn’t live like that anymore. T.D. Jakes said it best, ‘to be unforgiving is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die,’” she said. “That helped me like let go and to be able to forgive in the sense for me, not him, so I can function and try to get back to being myself.”
Williams’ attorney says this is the first time in his career his client told a judge that death would be merciful and that he doesn’t deserve that kind of mercy.