Owner of Unlicensed D.C. Row House Indicted for Murder in Connection with Fatal Fire
WASHINGTON – James G. Walker, 61, the owner of a commercially zoned row house at 708 Kennedy Street, N.W., was arraigned by Superior Court of the District of Columbia Judge Ronna L. Beck on two counts of second degree murder and two counts of involuntary manslaughter. The grand jury indictment was announced by U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Special Agent in Charge of the Washington Field Division Ashan M. Benedict; Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Peter Newsham; and Fire and EMS Chief Gregory M. Dean.
According to the indictment and related court documents, on August 18, 2019, Fitsum Kebede, Yafet Solomen, and others resided at the row house on Kennedy Street owned by Walker. Although Walker used the structure as a boarding house, he did not have a certificate of occupancy for the building and the structure was in violation of several fire safety codes. During the morning of August 18, 2019, a fire broke out inside the building. Kebede and Solomen were in the basement at the time and were unable to exit the premises. They subsequently died from smoke inhalation. Following the indictment, Walker was arrested on January 15, 2020.
An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence of guilt. The defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty. If convicted, Walker faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and five years of supervised release.
In announcing the indictment and arraignment, U.S. Attorney Liu, ATF SAC Benedict, MPD Chief Newsham, and Fire and EMS Chief Dean commended the work of the ATF Arson and Explosives Task Force that investigated the case, including MPD, ATF, and Fire and EMS. Finally, they acknowledged the work of Assistant U.S. Attorney Vinet Bryant, who is prosecuting the case.