SAGINAW (WJRT) - (03/01/18) - The lone survivor of a house fire that killed two women in Saginaw this month has been charged with murder for allegedly setting the blaze.
"The allegation is simply that he set his own home on fire knowing that both his sister and mother were there," said Steve Fenner, a Saginaw County assistant prosecutor.
Jason Desmone, 38, was arraigned Thursday morning on two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of felony murder and arson. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison with no possibility of parole.
Fenner said charging him with the two crimes for each woman is a tactic to give the jury options if they end up deciding Desmone's fate. "They can determine whether it was intentionally set with the purpose of killing somebody, or whether it was a fire that was set that resulted in someone's death," he said.
Investigators believe Desmone intentionally set the house on fire in the 1700 block of Wood Street where he lived with his mother and sister, 71-year-old Adair Smithpeters and 41-year-old Melissa Shook. Both died as a result of the fire.
"It's sad and we certainly want justice for all involved," said Lt. Jim Lang, assistant post commander at the Tri-City Post for the Michigan State Police.
Lang said charging Desmone took some extra investigation, but the case started immediately after the fire when Saginaw police officers noticed some issues. "Starting getting some conflicting information, that kind of raises the red flag and got things going for us," he said.
MSP fire investigators ended up sending some samples from the home to an expert who specializes in electrical fires to rule it out as a cause.
Desmone wasn't charged until those results came back.
"Once you're arrested the clock starts ticking and you only have so much time to come to court and present the evidence," Lang said.
Desmone is scheduled to be back in court later this month.
The house had been condemned earlier in the day due to a large amount of trash strewn all over the floors. An MMR ambulance responding to the scene also got stuck in snow a half block from the scene.
Desmone remained in custody at the Saginaw County Jail after arraignment with no bond.