Woman accused of setting fatal rooming house fire pleads not guilty

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – The Buffalo woman who is accused of setting a Curtiss Street rooming house on fire last October, killing two men, has pleaded not guilty to murder and arson charges.

Al-Shariyfa Robinson appeared for arraignment in front of State Supreme Court Justice Penny Wolfgang Thursday morning.

Robinson is charged with two counts of 2nd degree murder and one count of second degree arson in connection with the fire that killed James Hodges, 64, and Edward Hughes, 58. Her attorney entered the not guilty plea to those charges.

Prosecutors say Robinson made a full confession to investigators that she set the fire on October 10, 2015, knowing people were asleep in the rooming house at the time.

Robinson’s attorney and her mother maintain any confession made would have only been done so under duress, and the defense will be fighting to keep that confession from being presented at trial.

Robinson’s mother, Donna, left the courtroom Thursday proclaiming her daughter’s innocence. “I know she would never do anything. She wouldn’t kill a fly,” she said.

“My daughter is a compassionate humanitarian,” she added. “She lived a couple houses away from where this incident happened. She was involved with the person that owned the building. She tried to get help for those gentlemen because they were being taken advantage of.”

Acting Erie County District Attorney Michael Flaherty Jr. would not comment on a possible motive in this case, explaining that the facts will all come out during the upcoming trial. “Whatever her reason was, it was good enough for her,” he said. “I can’t speak exactly what was going on in her mind. All I can speak to is the evidence before the grand jury was sufficient to have it accuse her of setting the fire.”

Judge Wolfgang ordered Robinson to be held without bail during her arraignment Thursday.

A pre-trial conference has been scheduled for May 27 at 9:30 a.m.

If convicted of all charges, Robinson faces a maximum sentence of 50 years to life in prison.

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