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Published: Saturday, 10/29/2005

Sentencing delayed for defendant in fatal fire

The sentencing of a woman convicted as a result of a fire a year ago at a South Toledo apartment complex that killed seven children has been continued to next month.

Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge Gary Cook was to sentence Melinda Ragland, 26, yesterday on seven counts of involuntary manslaughter. But the judge said he needed additional information before he could impose an appropriate sentence.

Last week, Ragland, mother of six of the children who were killed in the fire on Oct. 24, 2004, pleaded no contest to and was found guilty of seven counts of involuntary manslaughter in the commission of misdemeanor child endangering. She faces a possible sentence of up to five years in prison on each count.

Judge Cook, who rescheduled the hearing to Nov. 29, said he reviewed a presentence evaluation that was prepared by the court's probation department, but wasn't satisfied with the report.

"The information was inadequate to formulate an appropriate sentence for Ms. Ragland. Under the circumstances, this being a rather serious case involving the deaths of seven children, more information is needed," he said.

The seven children, who included a cousin, ranged in age from 7 months to 7 years. They were left alone in Ragland's apartment at 5118 Norwich Rd., near Airport Highway. The defendant was in another apartment in the complex, about 80 yards away, when the fire started.

She said she went to the unit to call the father of three of the children to ask him to bring diapers and formula.

Investigators believe the fire started when one of the children used a match or lighter to ignite a mattress or bedding in an upstairs bedroom. Six of the children were found under beds in a front bedroom of the four-bedroom apartment.

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