A gold medallion adorned with photos of her six children and their cousin - victims of Toledo's worst residential fire - hung from the neck of Melinda Ragland as she appeared yesterday in court to face charges in connection with their deaths.
Ms. Ragland, who is facing involuntary manslaughter charges for each child's death in the Oct. 24 fire in South Toledo, did not speak during her brief arraignment in Lucas County Common Pleas Court.
Instead, her attorney, Charles Boyk, entered not guilty pleas for Ms. Ragland, 25, who is charged with seven counts each of involuntary manslaughter and child endangering.
Ms. Ragland's family members were among those in the packed courtroom. Some of them also wore the large medal on chains from their neck. It was inscribed with the words "7 angels" and "R.I.P."
The case was among the first called by Judge Gary Cook, who earlier that morning was sworn into office. Judge Cook defeated a sitting judge in November; his election became official with the certification last week of the vote results.
The worst residential fire in the city's history claimed the lives of Ms. Ragland's children - Brian McCullough, 5; his sisters, Brionna McCullough, 2; Teairia McCullough, 7; Talia Sanders, 19 months; Tanija Sanders, 7 months, and Terri Sanders, 6. Quanisha Kirk, 7, a cousin, also died.
Investigators believe the fire began when a child ignited a match, lighter, or candle to a mattress or bedding in a rear upstairs bedroom of their apartment at 5118 Norwich Rd.
Though neighbors attempted to enter the apartment to free the children from the blaze, firefighters arrived at the scene one minute after the 911 call was made. All seven children died from smoke inhalation.
Ms. Ragland said she was on the porch of the apartment, but prosecutors said she was at another apartment in the complex about 80 yards away from her home when the fire began.
Judge Cook released Ms. Ragland on her own recognizance and set a pretrial hearing for Jan. 6.
After the arraignment, Ora Ragland, the mother of Ms. Ragland, cited passages from the Bible in proclaiming that her daughter was innocent. She said her daughter was a good mother to her children.
"We believe my daughter. That is the bottom line," she said. "Only God can give and only God can take away."
The fire claimed seven of Ora Ragland's 17 grandchildren.
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