Accused Mizpah Arsonist Pleads Not Guilty

The woman accused of setting Reno's deadliest hotel fire, killing 12 and injuring dozens, pleaded not guilty Friday to arson and multiple counts of first-degree murder.

Thirteen times, Valerie Moore responded "not guilty," or "not guilty, your honor" during her arraignment when asked for her plea by Washoe District Judge Brent Adams.

Moore, who was paroled in 2005 after serving 17 years in prison for second-degree murder for killing an unemployed waitress, was flanked by her public defenders Jennifer Lunt and Chris Fortier.

Adams set trial for Jan. 21, 2008 and told attorneys the date would not change. Lawyers expect the trial to take four weeks.

Prosecutors have not decided whether Moore, 47, will face a possible death sentence, Chief Deputy District Attorney David Clifton said.

Clifton and Deputy District Attorney Elliott Sattler said they are reviewing every aspect of the case, including Moore's mental
competence, before deciding on a possible death penalty. A hearing
to inform the court on their decision was scheduled for Jan. 26.

Outside the courtroom, Lunt said Moore has a history of mental illness, and the defense was considering seeking a mental evaluation.

Moore, 47, a casino cook, is accused of setting fire to a mattress Halloween night at the historic Mizpah Hotel after arguing with another resident at the $150-a-week residential hotel near downtown Reno.

All 12 victims died of asphyxiation from smoke and soot, investigators said, and another 31 people were injured. Because the 84-year-old brick building was unsafe to enter the fire, the last victim was not found in the rubble until a week later.

During a preliminary hearing last month, one tenant testified that Moore, angry and intoxicated, threatened him earlier that night.

Maxie Birch said Moore told him "You will be gotten" two hours before flames broke out.

Daniel Heenan, a special agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives based in Las Vegas, said investigators concluded the fire started outside Birch's door.

"Our conclusion was the only way the fire could have started is if those mattresses were set on fire," Heenan said. "We had tons of indicators" to pinpoint the origin of the fire.

Moore was arrested Nov. 1 and remains jailed without bail.

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