Man Gets Life for House Fire That Killed Widow

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Close-up of a gavel and its sound block

    A North Texas jury has returned a life sentence for a man accused of manslaughter in connection with the death of a Fort Worth police officer's widow who took him in and gave him shelter.

    A Tarrant County jury sentenced 55-year-old Cliff Douglas Parker to life in prison Wednesday after finding him guilty last week of the Sept., 2011, death of 67-year-old Betty Roberts.

    Roberts, according to prosecutors, was a "kindhearted woman who took in stray pets and people who had fallen on hard times."  Parker, a repeat offender with a prior conviction for arson, was one of those who found refuge at Roberts' home.

    Evidence presented at trial showed Parker was drinking one afternoon when he argued with two other people whom Roberts had given shelter.  To keep the peace Roberts requested Parker leave, though he later returned and the fighting resumed, prosecutors said.

    At some point during the second altercation, Parker threatened to burn the house down and then left the residence.

    Later that night, prosecutors said Parker returned to Roberts' home and lit a garage sofa on fire. Prosecutors said Parker described the act as an attempt to "smoke up the residence to the point where everyone had to leave."

    Police and firefighters arrived at the scene and attempted to rescue Roberts and another resident, Freddie Thomas, who were trapped inside. Prosecutors said as one of the rescuers tried to escape the burning home, while carrying Roberts, Parker tried to push them back inside.

    Roberts and Thomas were taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas for treatment.  Thomas was treated and eventually released.  Roberts died of thermal injuries to her lungs after battling for 52 days in the hospital.

    The jury deliberated less than an hour before giving Parker the maximum sentence.