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Friday, July 9, 2010

Twenty years after deadly fire, suspect caught in California

The man accused of setting a fire more than 20 years ago that killed four people in Keene, including an infant, waived extradition Thursday, according to state prosecutors.

David McLeod, 53, of West Sacremento, Calif., waived extradition during a hearing in Yolo County Superior Court. He has been in jail since his June 30 arrest. New Hampshire authorities have 30 days to arrange his transport to New Hampshire, according to state Attorney General Michael Delaney.

McLeod is the first arrest made by the state’s Cold Case Squad, formed late last year to investigate about 100 unsolved murders throughout the state, according to the squad’s prosecutor, Senior Assistant Attorney General N. William Delker.

McLeod is facing four charges of second-degree murder in the deaths of the Hina family. Carl Hina, 49, his wife, Lori Hina, 26, their 4-month-old daughter Lillian Hina, and Carl Hina’s 12-year-old daughter Sara, died in an apartment building fire the night of Jan. 14, 1989, Delaney said.

McLeod was a suspect in the case more than 20 years ago and has spent the last 15 years in the Sacremento area.

He initially fought extradition, which would have required prosecutors to secure a governor’s warrant in order to bring him back to New Hampshire to face the charges, Delker said.

A woman who survived the fire told The Associated Press that McLeod said to her that night, “I did a good job, didn’t I?”

The neighbor, Elizabeth Kennedy, said she tried to help 12-year-old Sara Hina escape, but the girl went back into the apartment to her family, according to the Associated Press.

“It was horrible,” said Kennedy, who said 4-month-old Lillian Hina was her god-daughter. Carl Hina was a taxi driver who worked hard to support his family, she said.

In a statement released by his sister, McLeod’s family members said after his arrest that they are convinced he was not involved, according to The Associated Press.

“David survived the fire, and like others who live through such a tragic event, often thought about those who perished,” the family said. “Our family is hopeful that New Hampshire authorities will sort out what we feel is a misunderstanding,” the family said.

Delker, who oversees the Cold Case Unit, said McLeod left New Hampshire soon after the fire. McLeod’s family said he left to pursue a job in Arizona after he had trouble finding work in New Hampshire and that he led a public life, eventually marrying, moving to California and raising a family. The family said he worked in construction until he suffered a disability on a job site, according to The Associated Press.

Carl Hina was dead when rescue crews found the family inside the 88 High St. apartment building.

Lori, Sara and Lillian Hina were taken to the Cheshire Medical Center, where they also died. The state medical examiner said all four died of smoke inhalation, Delaney said.

The Hina family were the only people killed in the fire. Several other residents escaped without injury, Delker said.

The Keene Fire Department initially said the fire was accidental, but the Keene Police Department later found evidence that it was suspicious, and the state fire marshal’s office eventually ruled that it was set intentionally.

But no arrests were made, and the case was never closed, Delaney said.

Delker couldn’t comment on whether McLeod knew the Hina family but said he was a regular at the eight-unit apartment building.

“He frequented 88 High St., where the fire occurred,” Delker said.

Joseph G. Cote can be reached at 594-6415 or