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Man pleads not guilty in fire that left 3 dead

– An Evansville man who police say admitted setting a deadly apartment fire pleaded not guilty Friday to murder and arson charges in the fire deaths of a woman, her young daughter and another adult.

Christopher Compton, 31, appeared for his initial hearing by a video link from the Vanderburgh County Jail, where he’s being held without bond. Compton told Superior Court Judge Robert Pigman that he was pleading not guilty to three counts of murder and 10 counts of arson.

“On my own, in my defense, I’m pleading not guilty,” Compton told the judge.

Pigman said he would enter a not guilty plea on Compton’s behalf and set his next court appearance for April 17, the Evansville Courier & Press reported. The judge also appointed the local public defender’s office to represent Compton.

Prosecutors charged Compton on Thursday in Monday’s deaths of 3-year-old Jazmine Jones; her 28-year-old mother, Keri Jones; and 76-year-old Donald Lankford.

All three victims died from smoke inhalation in the same apartment during the fire, which also injured four other residents and six firefighters.

Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Nicholas Hermann has filed his intention to seek a life without parole sentence if Compton is convicted, but his office is still weighing possibly seeking the death penalty in the case.

Donna Collins, the aunt of Keri Jones, said after the hearing that she and other relatives are pushing for the death penalty.

Evansville police said that during an interview Compton told officers he set a jacket on fire on a children’s stroller in a hallway inside the apartment house.