United States Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia and the Attorney General for the District of Columbia Announce Joinder of Trials in Fatal Kennedy Street Row House Fire
WASHINGTON – Superior Court of the District of Columbia Judge Ronna L. Beck granted on Tuesday a motion filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the District of Columbia Office of the Attorney General to join their separate prosecutions of defendant James G. Walker, 61, the former owner of a row house at 708 Kennedy Street, N.W. The defendant did not object to joining the cases against him. Walker was previously indicted by a grand jury and arraigned on two counts of second degree murder and two counts of involuntary manslaughter. He was also arraigned on 41 criminal fire and housing code violations.
The joinder of trials was announced by U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Shea; District of Columbia Attorney General Karl A. Racine; 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.
“The joinder of these cases for trial provides yet another opportunity for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, along with our other local and federal partners, to join forces in the pursuit of justice on behalf of District residents,” said U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Shea for the District of Columbia.
"This prosecution demonstrates how the Office of the Attorney General fights every day for the safety and well-being of our most vulnerable residents," said Attorney General Karl A. Racine. These charges are the result of a comprehensive investigation and close partnership between our two respective offices. We are committed to bringing justice to this tragic case."
According to the indictment and related court documents, on August 18, 2019, Fitsum Kebebe, Yafet Solomen, and others resided at the row house on Kennedy Street owned by Walker. Although Walker used the row house as a boarding house, he did not have a certificate of occupancy for the building. During the morning of August 18, a fire broke out inside the row house. Kebebe and Solomen were in the basement at the time and were unable to exit the row house. They died from smoke inhalation. Following the indictment, Walker was arrested on January 15, 2020.
An indictment and an information are formal accusations 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. If convicted of the fire and housing code violations, Walker faces a maximum penalty of more than 10 years or fines exceeding $50,000.
In announcing the court’s joinder of the cases, U.S. Attorney Shea, D.C. Attorney General Racine, 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 and Assistant Attorneys General Keith Ingram and Jeffrey Cargill who are prosecuting the cases now joined for trial.