Mark Kirk

New Castle County, Delaware
Date of Alleged Crime:  December 5, 1996

Mark Anthony Kirk was convicted of triple homicide for allegedly starting an apartment house fire that killed three people. The fire began on a stove in Kirk's apartment in Building 8 of the Beaver Brook Apartments. Police interrogated Kirk for hours, and engaged in psychological manipulations including threatening him with a death sentence. Kirk eventually confessed to accidentally starting the fire. He said he was using an electric burner on the stove to light a cigarette when he spilled a bottle of Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum on the burner, causing the fire.

Kirk's conviction for intentional homicide was based on this confession even though he recanted that he even accidentally spilled the rum. Kirk said he was asleep at the time of the fire and awoke to smoke and the sounds of his girlfriend and her son shouting in the kitchen. A central problem with the confession is that the 70-proof rum is not flammable, at least as a liquid, and will not burn. However, at trial, the prosecution presented a video that purported to show that the rum vapors ignited when a trickle amount was poured on an apparently modified white-hot stove burner. A defense expert presented a video showing that no fire resulted when the rum was poured on a normal red-hot stove burner.

Two weeks before the fatal fire, Kirk's girlfriend, Darlene, told him that the stove had caught fire while she was using it. This fire was apparently caused by a buildup of grease. Kirk cleaned up the grease as best he could. It does not seem plausible that a stove would catch fire two times in a two-week period due to two unrelated causes. The building maintenance man, Steven Rivera, 44, who lived in the apartment above Kirk's, was scheduled to look at the stove, but he died in the later fire, along with two of his children, Frances, 17, and Robert, 8.

Kirk had an argument with Darlene on the day of the fire and police alleged that he set the fire in order to kill her. Darlene and her two sons had no problem escaping the apartment. At trial, Darlene's 16-year-old son, Jason Hamby, testified that Kirk had said to him, “I'll kill you and your family, or hurt you.” Jason made no such statement during the initial investigation and it is believed that under police coercion he fabricated his testimony to protect his mother.

Kirk asked his attorney about suppressing his confession at trial. The attorney said it would be better strategy to put up the appearance of trying to suppress it, but to let it in, thus committing the state to their case-in-chief. At a bench trial, Kirk's friend, Tom Garrett, for whom the rum was his liquor of choice, testified that he drank the last of the rum prior to the fire. Despite the apparent lack of a flammable accelerant and the lack of even an “inflammable accelerant,” Judge Norman Barron convicted Kirk.

There existed political motives behind Kirk's conviction. Building inspectors apparently took bribes to illegally pass the Beaver Brook Apartments where the fire occurred, as the buildings had no firebreaks. The prosecution of Kirk helped to divert media attention from this issue.  [6/07]


References:  Justice: Denied,

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Delaware Cases, Arson Murder Cases, Triple Homicide Cases