Mother gets probation in fire that killed her daughter

A woman who accidentally started a fire that claimed her daughter's life was placed on five years' probation yesterday, after lawyers said she was punished by the child's death and needed psychiatric and alcohol abuse treatment.

"It would seem to me that the public would be better served by your rehabilitation," Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Robert H. Heller Jr. told Carol SheatsMartin.


Martin, 33, of Cape St. Claire said she felt "unjustly accused" of trying to destroy her home and unfairly blamed. She said she misses her daughter, 12-year-old Danielle Sheats, killed in the fire Dec. 13, 1998.

"I wouldn't wish this on anybody," Martin said, hesitating as she addressed the judge, "because ... she just can't be replaced."


Heller said he was troubled by some of what Martin said, especially allusions to being tormented by family accusations, but said he hoped she was motivated to deal with her problems.

Charged with manslaughter, Martin entered an Alford plea in April to reckless endangerment. Though treated as a guilty plea, the plea was not an admission of guilt but an acknowledgment that prosecutors could prove their case.

Martin was ordered to continue psychiatric therapy, not drink, attend daily Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and quit smoking.

Her cigarette habit may have played a role in the fatal fire. Anne Arundel County fire officials believed that Martin started the fire by lighting paper napkins from a candle, but her attorney, Dale A. Cooter, said defense experts believed she was intoxicated and fell asleep with a lighted cigarette.

The sentence was what assistant state's attorney Laura S. Kiessling and Cooter sought. Cooter said Danielle's death was "more severe than anything anybody could do to her." Kiessling said she wanted to be sure that Martin received needed help for her problems.

Martin's boyfriend at the time, George Martin, whom she has since married, and two firefighters were burned trying to rescue Danielle. Her husband has permanent scarring and lost partial use of one arm from his injuries.