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Man accused in girlfriend's fire death won't face death penalty

By Gavin Lesnick

This article was published April 17, 2014 at 9:55 a.m.

matthew-nichols-hides-his-face-from-a-camera-as-hes-escorted-thursday-from-pulaski-county-circuit-court

Matthew Nichols hides his face from a camera as he's escorted Thursday from Pulaski County Circuit Court.

Matthew Nichols

A North Little Rock man charged with capital murder after authorities say he set his girlfriend on fire and then doused her with gasoline won't face the possibility of the death penalty.

Matthew Nichols, 47, was back in Pulaski County Circuit Court on Thursday after his defense attorneys sought a second opinion on a State Hospital report that found him mentally fit to proceed to trial.

After getting the results of that report, Nichols' attorneys withdrew an earlier plea of innocent by reason of mental disease or defect. Judge Wendell Griffen then entered an innocent plea and set an Aug. 25 start date for a four-day trial.

Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney John Johnson told Griffen at the hearing that the state was not seeking the death penalty. He said afterward that he could not discuss the specifics of what went into the decision, but that it was reached in consultation with the victim's family.

"They agree with the decision," he said.

In Arkansas, defendants found guilty of capital murder face either the death penalty or life in prison without parole.

The victim, 38-year-old Jessie McFadden, on May 20, 2013, suffered burns on 90 percent of her body and died hours later at the hospital.

One witness to the attack at the couple’s 219 Water St. home told investigators he saw smoke in the area and responded to see whether anyone needed help.

"When he got to the front of the house, he watched ... Matthew Nichols pour gasoline onto Jessie McFadden's body, which was already on fire," police wrote in the report.

Police added in the report that Nichols approached officers at the scene, said there had been a "family disturbance" and that he needed to get in a police car.

Authorities haven't released details on how McFadden was set on fire. Johnson said he could not discuss facts of the case pending trial.

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HOTDEMN says... April 17, 2014 at 12:32 p.m.

Great, now we have to pay tens of thousands of dollars for the next 40 years taking care of this POS.

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Churchill says... April 17, 2014 at 11:58 p.m.

Well Hot, if he was given the death penalty we'd have to pay tens of thousands of dollars for the next 20-25 years to keep him in prison plus hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs over those 20-25 years as his case worked its way through the appeals process. You do the math. Life without parole is much, much cheaper on the taxpayer than the death penalty.
Death penalty proponents cannot use the argument a death penalty sentence is cheaper than life w/o parole. That said, this man, if convicted, deserves the death penalty. His (alleged) victim died a horrific and excruciating death. Sometimes money shouldn't be a factor.

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