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Woman accused of setting 2019 Edgewood townhouse fire that killed 4 deemed not competent to stand trial

An Edgewood woman accused of setting a fire in 2019 that killed several of her housemates, was found not competent to stand trial, according to documents filed in Harford County Circuit Court.

Bobbie Sue Hodge, 61, was ordered to be committed to a Maryland Department of Health facility, where she will remain unless the court finds her competent to stand trial or other legal conditions are met, according to assistant public defender Belgin Palaz, an attorney for Hodge.

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Bobbie Sue Hodge, 61, has been committed to a Maryland Department of Health facility after being deemed not competent to stand trial. She was charged with four counts of first-degree murder and arson for allegedly setting a fire in May 2019 at an Edgewood townhouse where she had lived that ultimately killed four people.
Bobbie Sue Hodge, 61, has been committed to a Maryland Department of Health facility after being deemed not competent to stand trial. She was charged with four counts of first-degree murder and arson for allegedly setting a fire in May 2019 at an Edgewood townhouse where she had lived that ultimately killed four people. (Courtesy Harford County Sheriff' / BSMG)

Hodge was facing multiple counts of first-degree murder, as well arson and a bevy of related charges connected to the May 9, 2019, fire at the Edgewood townhouse where she lived with several other people in 1800 block of Simons Court. The fire ultimately led to the deaths of four people.

Ernest Milton Lee, 57, Kimberly Ann Shupe, 47, and Dionne Dominique Hill, 32, all lived on the third floor and died in the fire. Two others, Mary Elizabeth Kennedy and Marquise St. John, were injured in the blaze.

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Kennedy, 52, suffered burns to over 70% of her body, and was rescued by firefighters from the second floor of the house. She later died from “thermal injuries,” according to the medical examiner, prosecutors said. A grand jury indicted Hodge on a first-degree murder charge related to Kennedy’s death in December.

St. John jumped from a third-story window to escape the flames, breaking an arm and a leg in the process, according to prosecutors.

In a motion filed Nov. 13, Hodge’s attorneys said their client had a substantial medical history and was showing “severe memory issues” and “lack of decision making capacity,” and Harford County Circuit Court Judge Paul W. Ishak approved an evaluation of her competency later that month.

Hodge was ordered to be committed to a designated health care facility within 10 business days from receipt of the order, filed in court Jan. 8. The facility was not specified in the documents.

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“The Defense is absolutely concerned about the prolonged pretrial incarceration of Ms. Hodge who languished at the Harford County Detention Center for well over a year before her commitment to the Maryland Department of Health,” Palaz wrote in an email. “Unfortunately, this prolonged pretrial incarceration is common as many of our clients are held pretrial despite the Court being unable to accommodate a trial and the ... COVID-19 outbreaks at dormitories within the detention center.”

Hodges’ trial had been postponed three times since her arrest in July 2019.

State’s Attorney for Harford County Albert Peisinger said an evaluation will be done yearly to determine Hodge’s competency.

The documents state than an annual review of the case will be held on Dec. 15. Previously, attorneys had been sparring over the admissibility of expert testimony, but Ishak declared the issue moot due to the trial’s postponement.

Were Hodge found competent at a later date, the litigation would resume from where it stopped when the order was issued in January, Palaz said.

Hodge is accused of setting the fire in the home’s second-floor living room, and an investigation by local and federal authorities suggests Hodge made “multiple threats” to burn the townhouse, according to charging documents. Officials said the townhouse was set up for nine people to live.

Witnesses also said they saw Hodge leave the room where the fire started at the time, and a recorded call from one of the deceased occupants named Hodge as the person who started the fire, the documents state.

Legal competency is the measure of a defendant’s ability to understand the charges against them and assist in their own defense. While sometimes conflated, competency differs from criminal responsibility, which determines if a defendant was unable to appreciate the criminality of their actions or comport their behavior to the requirements of the law at the time of the alleged offense.

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