Mother's reaction to news of her girls' deaths questioned Fire chaplain, boyfriend, testify at murder trial

February 10, 1996|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

Moments after being informed that her two young children died in a fire at her Baltimore rowhouse, Rene Elizabeth Aulton "breathed a sigh of relief," a Fire Department chaplain testified in Ms. Aulton's murder trial yesterday.

The chaplain, Dennis Hancock, said he went to meet with Ms. Aulton in the back of an ambulance outside her home on the night of the Nov. 15, 1994, fire that killed Christina Lambert, 4, and Natalie Aulton, 2.

"I told her I had some very sad news for her. She looked at me, and I told her that her children had died in the fire," Mr. Hancock said. "After I informed her, I observed that she became very relaxed, and, in my opinion, she breathed a sigh of relief."

Mr. Hancock, who has made death notifications to relatives of fire victims for 14 years, said he'd never seen such a reaction to tragedy before.

Ms. Aulton, 27, was charged with two counts of first-degree murder after the fire at 2309 Fleet St. According to a taped confession to be played later in the trial, Ms. Aulton admitted in a police interview that she set the fire hoping to kill herself and her children, although she now says she cannot remember making an admission.

Prosecutors have not said why they believe she tried to kill her children, although police investigators intimated that she may have been distraught because of problems with her boyfriend.

Franklin J. Wooters, the boyfriend, testified yesterday that he had a strong attachment to Ms. Aulton's children. But he added that he had increasing concerns about his engagement to Ms. Aulton.

In an Aug. 29, 1994, letter to Mr. Wooters that was read aloud in court, Ms. Aulton described intense feelings for him and praised him for "being a father figure to the girls. They ask for you all the time."

Mr. Wooters said he regularly stopped at Ms. Aulton's home on his taxicab route to visit her and the children. But the relationship was starting to fade, he said.

"Toward the end of the relationship, my love for Rene started dying. I was less ready for marriage," Mr. Wooters said.

After Ms. Aulton reportedly confessed to killing the children, she called Mr. Wooters and tearfully told him that "she didn't mean to do it," Mr. Wooters said.

"I told her that as far as I was concerned, she could burn in hell," Mr. Wooters said.

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