Schenectady County

Murder plea in deadly fire upheld by appellate court

The murder plea of the woman who admitted to setting a fire that killed a 10-year-old girl was uphel

The murder plea of the woman who admitted to setting a fire that killed a 10-year-old girl was upheld Thursday by a state appeals court.

Sarah R. Moore, now 28, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the June 13, 2009, fire; she drew a 22-years-to-life sentence. But she later tried to take that plea back, arguing her attorney at the time failed to pursue a mental health defense.

She was initially successful in getting her entire plea back, using an argument on a lesser count of second-degree assault. The sentence on the assault plea, related to an injury to a firefighter, was invalid.

After further arguments from prosecutors, though, the murder plea was reinstated. Only the assault plea was invalidated.

Moore appealed on the whole, saying she should have been able to take back the entire plea. She argued that her initial attorney was inadequate.

The Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court upheld the murder plea Thursday, finding Moore failed to provide the lower court proof of a mental disease or defect. The lower court ordered Moore to submit such evidence, giving her a week to do so; she never did, the appeals court ruled.

The Appellate Division found it couldn’t conclude the plea was anything but voluntary and also found that the lower court didn’t abuse its discretion.

At Moore’s October 2010 sentencing, the child’s mother, Tamira Bell, called Moore a monster and the judge called Moore a threat to society. Moore set the fire because she was angry at Tamira Bell over seeing her flirt earlier in the day with a man they both liked. Prosecutors said Moore knew Avion Bell was inside the house when she set the fire.

Three firefighters were also injured, none seriously, trying to rescue Avion from her bedroom on the second floor of the Congress Street house.

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