LYNCHBURG — A Nelson County woman accused of felony murder after a man died in an August 2009 house fire will face a jury trial in early March.
A special grand jury in October indicted Linda Campbell Blackwell, 58, on one count each of murder, obtaining money by false pretenses and arson in connection with an Aug. 2, 2009, fire that resulted in the death of James Shelton Sr.
Blackwell, of Lovingston, was arrested more than four years after the fire, as a result of a years-long investigation by the Virginia State Police and Nelson County Sheriff’s Office.
She also faces two charges each of arson and obtaining money by false pretenses in two other house fires on the same property on Creekview Lane in Lovingston in February 2012 and May 2013.
A jury trial is set to start March 4 in Nelson County Circuit Court and could last seven days.
Shelton, described by Blackwell’s attorney, Paul Valois, as a family friend, died two days after the fire. Blackwell’s husband, David, also was injured. Valois said in a recent interview that the fires were accidental and referred to his client as “a victim,” adding she weeps every day for Shelton.
Nelson Commonwealth’s Attorney Anthony Martin said the state’s position is the fires were not accidental. Felony murder typically is charged when a death occurs in the commission of another felony and does not necessitate a specific intent to kill, he has said.
Shelton was living with Linda and David Blackwell at the time, said her daughter, April Campbell, in a 2009 interview with the Nelson County Times. Authorities said at the time that Linda Blackwell drove three miles to the Nelson County Sheriff’s Office to report the early-morning fire.
April Campbell said in the 2009 interview that David Blackwell ran back into the house to help Shelton. Linda Blackwell found them both outside with severe burns to their bodies when she returned.
Martin said an insurance company paid to have the structure rebuilt on the existing foundation. The rebuilt home sustained partial damage in the 2012 and 2013 fires, he said.
Valois filed a motion on Oct. 28 that said the 2009 fire initially was ruled accidental or of indeterminate cause. The motion claimed a defective dishwater caused the 2012 fire and evidence from the 2013 fire was submitted to two laboratories for analysis, which returned conflicting results.
In a recent court hearing, Martin said an investigation did not find a problem with the dishwasher.
Valois’ motion requested Judge J. Michael Gamble to issue an order compelling Martin to abide by the Brady Rule, which requires prosecutors to disclose evidence that could negate a defendant’s guilt or mitigate a potential sentence.
Gamble did not rule on the request at an Oct. 29 hearing, pointing out that the commonwealth is bound by law to share any such evidence.