Warrant In Southington Fatal Fire Confirms Firecracker Started Blaze

SOUTHINGTON — After a night of drinking and pot smoking, Eric Morelli of Southington went to his friend Jason Milano's house to "get high and smoke some weed," according to an arrest warrant unsealed Friday.

When Milano did not answer Morelli's knocks at the door about 4 a.m. on June 22, Morelli hurled three firecrackers at Milano's bedroom window in an effort to wake him up. Two bounced off the screen, but one went into the bedroom, igniting a fire that killed Kristen Milano, 19, who was asleep, and heavily damaged the family's apartment at 32 Darling St., according to the warrant.

Morelli, who is charged with first-degree manslaughter and three counts of reckless endangerment, did not know the firecracker started the fire that killed Milano when Southington detectives questioned him later that day.

Morelli and Jason Milano had been at a party the night of June 21 in New Britain, where they talked about getting together to smoke marijuana and drink, according to the warrant. He explained to detectives how he tried to wake up Jason Milano by first knocking at the door and then throwing the fireworks.

He told detectives he knew one of the firecrackers he hurled went through an open window.

"I didn't know what to do," Morelli said, according to the warrant. Morelli said he kept yelling Jason Milano's name, and neighbors told police that they heard someone yelling "Jay, Jay," before the fire started.

At the end of his interview with Morelli, Southington Det. Adam Tillotson wrote in the warrant affidavit, "I asked Morelli if he had anything else to add. Morelli replied, 'That's exactly what happened, word for word. I feel like an [expletive], what if they died? Like you know what I mean? That could've been really, really bad on my end. Like it was stupid for doing that.'"

"At the time of the interview," Tillotson noted in the warrant, "Morelli was not aware the fire resulted in a fatality."

Tillotson drove Morelli home after the interview and met with his parents, Eddie and Sue Morelli. "I informed Morelli and his parents that the fire had resulted in a fatality. Morelli and his mother were both visibly upset and crying, after receiving this information."

The state medical examiner determined that Kristen Milano died of smoke inhalation and that her death was a homicide. Morelli was arrested two days after the fire and has been free on $150,000 bail.

There were two other people in the house when the fire began: Jason Milano, who told police he passed out on a first-floor couch, and Diane Goodrich, Milano's aunt. Goodrich told police that at 4:20 a.m. she smelled smoke in the apartment and heard the fire alarm sounding.

"I went upstairs to investigate and found a pillow on fire on top of my nephew Jason's bed," Goodrich told police, according to the warrant. "I tried to put the pillow out and couldn't get the fire to go out. I then tried to put the fire out with water and that also didn't work. I couldn't believe how fast the fire spread. It was almost as if gasoline was on the bed."

Goodrich told police that she got the family dog out of the apartment and woke up Jason Milano. Neither knew, according to the warrant, that Kristen Milano was in the apartment.

Jason Milano told police he tried to get to the second floor to see if anyone was there, but couldn't make it because the smoke was so thick.

Witnesses told police that the person they heard yelling "Jay, Jay" and throwing the fireworks at the window rode a scooter to the apartment. Jason Milano told police that Morelli is known to ride a scooter, and that's how police focused on him.

After extinguishing the fire, firefighters told police and the family that they'd found the body of a young woman in the apartment. She was quickly identified as Kristen Milano.

The warrant for Morelli's arrest was ordered unsealed Friday by Bristol Superior Court Judge Robyn Stewart Johnson. On Monday, she continued a sealing order on the warrant when she transferred the case to Superior Court in New Britain.

The issue was placed on the docket Friday after The Courant raised a question about the continued seal.

The warrant was sealed Monday at the request of Morelli's defense attorney, Raymond Hassett.

Friday, Hassett asked that the seal be continued. William S. Fish Jr., an attorney for The Courant, argued for the warrant to be unsealed. Prosecutor Paul Rotiroti told the judge that there was no reason for the sealing order to continue.

Hassett asked for the seal to continue to ensure Morelli's right to fair trial. He said the case has generated much news coverage and that a potential jury pool could be polluted. He also expressed concern that information in the warrant could prove embarrassing to the victim and Morelli.

Fish said the continued sealing of the warrant was not done according to state law. He also said that courts have held that careful questioning of jurors can ensure a fair trial.

Court documents "are presumptively public," Fish said. The judge agreed and ordered the warrants unsealed.

Morelli is due back in court Sept. 4 in New Britain.

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