District Attorney Warren Montgomery reports that on Thursday, March 9, 2023, a 12-person jury in Washington Parish unanimously found Mardeontae Lee, age 25 and of Franklinton, Louisiana, guilty as charged on three counts of attempted first degree murder and one count of aggravated arson. District Judge Alan Zaunbrecher presided over the trial.
In June of 2020, a resident of Franklinton called the Franklinton Police Department because she saw two strangers pouring gasoline around the outside of her residence. The homeowner, her daughter, and great-grandson were all in the home at the time.
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The strangers had fled by the time police arrived. Officers on the scene confirmed that gasoline had been poured around the exterior of the home. The homeowner had a surveillance camera and was able to show officers footage of two black males, one with a gas can, pouring liquid around the foundation of the house. The initial responding officer also noted he had seen a small flame as he arrived. Officers subsequently located a piece of paper that was partially burned around a small patch of burned grass and took a soil sample.
Based on the video evidence, officers were able to identify and locate one of the two males involved. In his police interview, the minor identified the other perpetrator as Lee. He claimed he only went with Lee because he was “bored.”
Mardeontae Lee was arrested and, in his interview, he denied involvement. When officers asked for a DNA sample, he said he wanted to change his statement. In his second interview, he said that he had been ordered by the leader of his gang to burn the house down when someone was at home. He said that his gang leader told him that they had been paid for the arson and murder and even supplied him with the gas can. He told police that he did not want to set fire to the residence and that was why he poured the gas only on the concrete areas where he knew it would not ignite.
Upon further investigation, officers learned that the arson and attempted murders were retaliatory crimes for a murder that occurred earlier in the month. The homeowner was the mother of the man who allegedly committed the murder. That man was being held in jail on the murder charge.
During the trial, both adult victims testified as to the sheer terror they experienced, believing they were about to be burned alive in their own home as they watched their home encircled with gasoline via their surveillance system. In closing, Assistant District Attorney Jason Cuccia told the jury, “You will send a message with your verdict - in Washington Parish, we will not tolerate this behavior and we will hold you responsible for your actions.“
At sentencing, Lee faces up to 100 years in prison, without the benefit of parole or probation. Judge Zaunbrecher set sentencing for April 24, 2023.
Detective Sergeant James Folks of the Franklinton Police Department investigated the case. Assistant District Attorneys Jason Cuccia and Jay Adair prosecuted the case.
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