Janet Danahey Supporters Hoping For Clemency

11:31 PM, Jul 18, 2012   |    comments
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Greensboro, NC -- It started as a Valentine's Day prank and ended with an apartment building burned to the ground.

The flames spread quickly; four people were trapped inside an apartment.

All four of them - Ryan Bek, Beth Harris and sisters, Rachel and Donna Llewellyn - died.

It happened during the early hours on February 15th, 2002.

At the time, Janet Danahey was 23-years-old and admitted she set the fire at the Campus Walk Apartments.

"There's a process you go through, I think when it first happens, complete shock... And then also in a way denial, and I think it finally hits you whenever you get in court and they say the sentencing," Danahey said in her only television interview after her sentencing.

The sentence was life in prison without parole.

Now, 10 years later, two Greensboro attorneys have filed a petition with Governor Bev Perdue's clemency office on behalf of Janet Danahey.

The petition is asking the governor to commute her sentence; that is when a convicted prisoner serving an active sentence has the sentence reduced by any number of years, months, or days.

It could make them eligible for parole or if it's reduced to time served; it could mean the individual's immediate release.

New 2 caught up with three key people who worked on the case from the beginning.

A lot has changed in the 10 years since that deadly fire, even the charred apartment complex has been rebuilt.

But for the prosecutors and one fire investigator the memories and the emotions are still raw.

"All the years I was in the fire service, I have newspaper clippings of one fire and that's that fire," said David Douglas, a retired Greensboro fire battalion chief. "We had people jumping out of the third floor windows, if you can imagine that."

Howard Neumann, the chief assistant Guilford County district attorney, also remembers the affecting scene.

"It was just devastating, to see the destruction of the property and then to realize that there were four young people pretty much buried underneath it," he said.

Douglas says he remembers how his colleagues sifted through ashes and debris to recover the burned victims.

"You have to understand when you get ready to step up into a command post, and you're fixing to talk to two parents that you know both of their daughters, died, it's not easy," he said, choking back tears.

Neumann says since Danahey's attorneys filed the clemency request, he's been thinking about the promise he made to the victims' families outside the courtroom after the sentencing - reassuring them that the woman whose actions killed their children would never get out of prison.

"Now I kind of wonder if that promise was hollow or not," he said with emotion cracking through his voice.

Stuart Albright, who was the prosecutor in the case has since become a superior court judge, but says the 10-year-old incident is still fresh in his memory.

"No case is ever, should ever be celebrated so to speak. But, this case is one where it was so sad and so tragic as to how the victims died," he said. "Life without parole, it wasn't a surprise when she pled guilty that the sentence was going to be life without parole."

Dahaney's attorneys have been planning to request clemency for three years. Neumann says they even tried to get the support of the victims' parents.

"It got to a point when, actually, one of the victim's families asked me to make them stop," he recalled.

For Douglas, who has kept in touch with one of the families since the incident, the most upsetting part about the clemency request is that it forces the victims' families to relive the loss.

"If you will allow me to have a hearing to resurrect the people who have died, and they can go on with their life then I have no problem with Ms. Danahey going on with her life," he said.

"We're just going to forget that and focus only on the living person? And that's what I need to make sure the governor understands that," Neumann added.

The chief assistant district attorney has 30 days to put together a fact sheet for the governor.

After that, it's the governor's discretion as to what happens.

Neumann says he has spoken to all the family members - except one dad - and that they all would like Danahey to serve out the sentence she pleaded guilty towhen she was trying to avoid the dead penalty.


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