WARREN - A man who was recently released from prison argued with his live-in girlfriend early Monday, assaulted the woman's four children in a fit of rage, and set the home on fire while everyone was still inside, police said.
John M. Smith, 49, pleaded not guilty Monday to a first-degree felony aggravated arson charge and five counts of first-degree misdemeanor domestic violence in Warren Municipal Court. He was held without bond and is scheduled for a preliminary hearing Aug. 16.
The aggravated arson charge carries a 10-year maximum sentence.
Kassandra Hilliard, 15, left, and her mother, Wendy Moore, stand next to a window at their home at 219 Idylwild St. N.E., Warren, that police said Moore’s boyfriend, John M. Smith, broke out and threw in gasoline in hopes of burning the family out of the house early Monday. Photo by Raymond L. Smith
Smith is accused of lighting the home on fire while the 37-year-old woman and her four children - an 18-year-old woman, 15-year-old girl and two boys, 13 and 11 - were inside.
Police reports state that Smith found out his live-in girlfriend, Wendy Moore, dated someone while he was in prison for more than two years after being convicted for leading police on a high-speed police chase in Austintown.
He attacked Moore at her 219 Idylwild St. N.E. home, then assaulted the four children, who tried to help fend off their mother's attacker, police said.
"We had been arguing on Sunday, but by the time we decided to go to bed, I thought it was settled," she said. "He said he still wanted to marry me."
At about 2 a.m., Moore described Smith as intoxicated and "in a fit of rage." He tried to strike her in the face, Moore said, which woke up the four children inside the home.
The four children tried to pull Smith off their mother, but Smith began attacking them, police said.
Stephanie Jefferies, 18, said Smith grabbed her throat and pinned her against the wall. Kassandra Hilliard, 15, said he pulled her hair, and Jason Moore, 13, said Smith grabbed a personal region and squeezed. The boy told police he struck Smith several times in the face before he released his grip.
Reports said Smith punched Justin Moore, 11, in the face and threw a clothes basket at him. The two wrestled inside of the house and eventually fought outside of the house, the police report states
One of the children fled to a neighbor's home and called police, according to the report.
Donald Zins, Smith's friend and neighbor, said that Smith returned about 45 minutes later and attempted to burn the family van. Zins and another friend stopped him, he said.
Smith then attempted to get back into the locked house.
"I told him that I wasn't going to let him back into the house," Zins said. "This is like my second family. I wasn't going to allow him to hurt Wendy or the kids."
Reports said Smith went to the garage, retrieved a gas canister, poured gas on the porch and at a kitchen window he broke and lit it on fire.
Wendy, Kassandra and Jason were in the kitchen at the time.
"I think he was trying to get the gasoline on them," Zins said. "He said they all are going to burn in hell."
Fire Chief Ken Nussle said firefighters contained the fire to the kitchen. He said investigators are trying to determine if a Molotov cocktail bomb was thrown through the kitchen window because it had been broken out. The fire also damaged the porch, and smoke damaged the remainder of the home.
Nussle said firefighters recovered several of the family's pet bunnies from inside.
Officers searched the area and found Smith hiding in the bushes behind 241 Idylwild St. N.E.
Smith had been released from prison May 30, according to Mahoning County Jail records, after being granted early judicial release from Mahoning County Common Pleas Judge Maureen Sweeney.
Assistant Mahoning County Prosecutor Martin Desmond said Smith was driving in Austintown on April 10, 2010, during saturation patrols when the Mahoning County Violent Crimes Task Force officers noticed Smith was acting suspicious.
Officers attempted to pull him over and Smith put his car in reverse and tried to strike the officers' cruisers, who maneuvered out of the way.
Desmond said Smith was eventually caught after a high-speed car chase.
Smith eventually pleaded guilty to first-degree felonious assault and third-degree felony failing to comply with the order of a police officer. He faced 15 years in prison but the plea agreement stipulated he serve four years and that prosecutors would agree to not oppose judicial release if he behaved in prison.
Sweeney sentenced him to four years in prison. After two years and four months in jail awaiting completion of the case and in prison following the sentence, Sweeney granted judicial release May 30 and ordered him to three years of probation.
Tribune Chronicle reporter Raymond L. Smith contributed to this report.