Woman charged with killing daughters in house fire disavows her confession She says police pressed her to admit guilt in 1994 blaze

February 21, 1996|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

A mother accused of killing her two daughters by setting her Canton rowhouse ablaze testified yesterday that police detectives pestered her into a confession, which she claimed she made in a dream-like "flashback" she can't remember.

"They got on my nerves so bad that I just made up a story, just to get them away from me," Rene Elizabeth Aulton, 27, said in Baltimore Circuit Court, where she is on trial in the death of her daughters, Christina Lambert, 4, and Natalie Aulton, 2.

Earlier in the trial, jurors heard Ms. Aulton's confession, taped eight days after the Nov. 15, 1994, fire.

They also heard the testimony of Albert Marcus, a city police detective who said Ms. Aulton declared at one point, "I set the fire to kill us all, including myself."

Ms. Aulton said repeatedly yesterday that those statements were made in what she called a "flashback" induced by persistent questioning by police.

When asked by prosecutor Donald Huskey what a flashback was, Ms. Aulton replied, "It's like a dream or something."

A fire investigator said the children appeared to have been trapped in their bedroom by a bed that had been placed against the other side of the door. When firefighters arrived at the home in the 2300 block of Fleet St., they found Ms. Aulton outside, hysterical but uninjured.

Mr. Huskey reacted with disbelief to Ms. Aulton's testimony yesterday that she went upstairs the day of the fire and was overcome by intense heat and thick black smoke.

Ms. Aulton said she yelled to the children to "go by the window and lay on their stomachs" while she went to get help.

"Then why weren't your clothes dirty, Miss Aulton?" Mr. Huskey said.

"I don't know," Ms. Aulton answered in an expressionless monotone that she maintained throughout her testimony yester- day.

Police detectives have said that Ms. Aulton set the fire in an apparent effort to maintain her relationship with her boyfriend, Frank Wooters, who testified Feb. 9 that his "love for Rene started dying" and that he was having second thoughts about their marriage plans.

Mr. Huskey asked Ms. Aulton on the stand yesterday whether she remembered telling the police shortly after the fire "that [she] and Frank were probably going to be together now," and whether she remembered telling a neighborhood friend "that the kids were a burden" and that she had killed them.

Ms. Aulton denied saying those things.

At other times during the trial, she said she couldn't remember things she might have said under police pressure and the shock of having lost her children.

Assistant Public Defender Mary Jo Livingston, Ms. Aulton's attorney, has described her client as "slow-witted" -- with an IQ just above mental retardation -- who was taken advantage of by police.

At one point yesterday, Ms. Livingston asked Ms. Aulton why she didn't run into the burning bedroom to save her children.

"It never clicked in my head," Ms. Aulton replied.

Attorneys are expected to present closing arguments tomorrow.

If convicted, Ms. Aulton could face life in prison without the possibility of parole.

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