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Man convicted of attempted murder and arson after family testifies to ‘sheer terror’ of watching him encircle home with gasoline

Mardeontae Lee (Washington and St. Tammany Parishes District Attorney's Office)

Mardeontae Lee (Washington and St. Tammany Parishes District Attorney’s Office)

A 25-year-old man in Louisiana is facing up to a century behind bars for attempting to kill a family of three by burning them alive inside their own home as part of a gang retaliation plot. A Washington Parish jury last Thursday unanimously found Mardeontae Lee guilty on three counts of attempted first-degree murder and one count of aggravated arson, authorities announced.

According to a press release from the Washington and St. Tammany Parishes District Attorney’s Office, officers with the Franklinton Police Department in June 2020 responded to a 911 call regarding a possible attempted arson at a residential home. The caller, who was also the homeowner, told the dispatcher that she saw two strangers pouring gasoline around the outside of her home while she, her daughter, and her great-grandson were all inside.

Upon arriving at the scene, police said that the two strangers had fled, but confirmed that gasoline had been poured around the exterior of the home. The first officer on the scene said he saw a small flame as he arrived and police located a partially-burned piece of paper around a burned patch of grass, per the release.

Surveillance camera footage obtained by investigators showed two black males on the property, one of whom was pouring the gasoline, prosecutors said. Using the footage, authorities say they were able to locate one of the suspects, who was a minor.

Prosecutors say the minor told investigators that he was at the home with Lee, but claimed that he only went along because he was “bored.”

Authorities subsequently took Lee into custody and during his initial interview with police, he denied having any involvement in the incident. However, when asked to provide a DNA sample, police said Lee asked to change his statement.

In a second interview, Lee told police that he had been at the house because the leader of his gang had ordered him to “burn the house down when someone was at home.”

“[Lee] 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,” the release states. “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.”

Investigators later confirmed that the arson and attempted murders of the three family members were “retaliatory crimes for a murder that occurred in earlier in the month,” prosecutors wrote. The gang was supposedly seeking revenge for a murder allegedly committed by the homeowner’s son. The homeowner’s son was in jail on a murder charge at the time of the attempted murders, prosecutors said.

At trial, both adult victims took the stand and testified about “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,” prosecutors wrote.

Assistant District Attorney Jason Cuccia closed the trial by telling 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.“

Lee is now facing a maximum sentence of up to 100 years in prison without the possibility of parole when he appears on April 24.

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.