Trooper: Arson Suspect Said Mom ‘deserved To See (kids) Burned’

January 29, 2019 GMT

WILKES-BARRE — In the days leading up to a deadly fire that killed three boys in Laflin, the arson suspect told his girlfriend he hated the children’s mother and wanted to burn down her house, police said Monday.

Testifying at a pre-trial hearing Monday, state trooper Cpl. Robert Betnar said the girlfriend of Preston Bonnett told investigators that he wanted to enact revenge on his ex-girlfriend, Susan Major, for turning him in on a credit card fraud case.

“He stated that he was going to burn her house down,” Betnar said, paraphrasing the statement by Tyla Marie Griffin, 29. “He did not give a (expletive) about the kids and she — Susan Major — deserved to see them burned.”

Upon hearing the testimony in court, Major sprung from her seat in the gallery and left the courtroom in tears.

Bonnett, 28, is awaiting trial on murder and arson charges alleging he set fire to his Major’s house in Lafin on Oct. 25, 2017, killing her three children: Erik Dupree, 16, Devon Major, 12, and Ezekiel Major, 7.

The testimony Monday came during a hearing to address numerous pre-trial motions in the case. Bonnett’s defense is seeking suppression of evidence and a change of venue and dismissal of the charges for lack of evidence.

The evidence against Bonnett includes a surveillance video of someone who prosecutors said is Bonnett snooping around on the back porch of the family home at 60 Oakwood Drive moments before the fire, as well as a 911 recording in which Erik Dupree puts him at the scene.

But defense attorney Bernard Brown of Carbondale argued in court Monday that the prosecution needs more to show he was responsible for the fire.

“Mere presence at the scene of the crime is not enough,” Brown said.

Assistant District Attorney Thomas Hogans argued Bonnett’s presence at the scene, combined with Griffin’s testimony, is more than enough to make the case against Bonnett.

“It’s our position that the circumstantial evidence shows that the defendant is the guilty party,” Hogans said.

Luzerne County Judge Michael T. Vough took the arguments under advisement and said he would rule on the issues at a later date.

Bonnett, who is being held without bail at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility, was initially set to stand trial Monday, but the case was continued as a result of the pending issues.

A new trial date was set for May 28.

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