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Man Who Burned Girlfriend to Death Gets Life Plus 68 to 136 Years

March 6, 2017

Contact: Robert D. James, 215.348.6332, rdjames@buckscounty.org

Kevin Small
       Kevin Small

A Philadelphia man who fatally set fire to his girlfriend in a Bensalem motel was sent to prison today for the rest of his life.

Kevin Lamar Small, 46, of Philadelphia, was sentenced after pleading guilty to first-degree murder in the incendiary death of Melissa Bacon Smith last spring. Small admitted setting off a deadly inferno by flinging a coffee cup filled with gasoline into Smith’s face inside their room at the Lincoln Motel on Lincoln Highway.

His act sent Smith, 46, to a torturous death, caused $1.8 million in property damage, and threatened the lives of more than 40 other guests and employees inside the motel, Deputy District Attorney Robert D. James said.

“This is about as evil a case as I’ve had in my 15 years as a prosecutor…,” James said in court. “He basically threw a Molotov cocktail at his girlfriend’s face. Very calmly, he then turned and walked away, and left her there to burn to death.”

Small’s only motivation: Anger over an argument he and Smith were having about her desire to end their three-month relationship.

Bucks County Common Pleas Court Judge Diane E. Gibbons, who sentenced Small, said the loss of life would have been far greater had motel employees, firefighters and police not heroically roused and rescued other guests from their rooms and smoke-choked hallways.

“I’m stunned that other people didn’t die in that fire,” the judge said.

In addition to first-degree murder, Small pleaded guilty to two counts of arson, one count of risking a catastrophe, 42 counts of recklessly endangering another person, and one count of possessing an instrument of crime. Gibbons imposed 10 to 20 years for each arson, three and one-half to seven years for risking a catastrophe, one to two years for each count of reckless endangerment, and two and one-half to five years for possessing an instrument of crime.

Gibbons ordered each sentence to run consecutively, for a total of life without parole plus 68 to 136 years in prison. In return for Small’s plea, the Commonwealth dropped its intention to seek the death penalty.

Smith, a Philadelphia mother of four children, had taken numerous contentious calls from Small on May 14, 2016, while working her night shift at Suds Beverages on Old Lincoln Highway. Small had been banned from the business for bothering her at work.

He waited outside for her shift to end, and the two went to an adjacent bar before checking into the Lincoln Motel around 11 p.m. Surveillance cameras show Small leaving their room twice to go to a Wawa store across U.S. 1 from the motel.

The first time, Small bought food and returned to the motel room. The second time, he purchased snacks with his food stamps card, traded the food to another customer for cash, and bought $1 worth of gasoline that he pumped into a coffee cup. After pouring the gas into a larger coffee cup, he asked the Wawa clerk for a book of matches and returned to the motel, arriving back at the room at 1:36 a.m.

Small later told his mother during a recorded prison visit that when Smith angered him, he had poured a small amount of gas onto the bed and threatened to light it. He said that Smith “flipped out,” prompting him to light the cup with his lighter and throw the remaining gas at her face at about 2:15 a.m.

Motel security video captured Small calmly leaving the room and silently passing two motel employees in the hallway. One of them, night manager Natasha Steele, then heard screaming coming from a room.

Steele hurried to get a maintenance worker to open the room, but she was repelled by thick smoke that quickly filled the hallway. She called 911 and started evacuating the other rooms at the motel, which was filled to capacity.

An autopsy determined that Smith was alive and conscious while on fire. “The pain from these wounds caused by the active fire would have been considerable and intense,” James said.

Smith’s family, including several siblings and children, sat silently through James’ lengthy recitation of the evidence. None had intended to speak at the hearing.

Appalled and angered after hearing all of the facts for the first time, six changed their minds and directed stinging rebukes at Small.

“I hope where you go, that you live in your own personal hell, because we will not see (Smith) again,” said her sister, Justina Bacon. “You’re a devil….I believe in Jesus, but I ain’t never gonna forgive you.”

“For him to have no remorse, there are no words for that because she was our mother. She gave birth to us,” said the victim’s daughter, Shaina White.

Khalil Jordan, 22, the victim’s youngest son, said his mother was helping him attend Community College of Philadelphia, but that she is no longer around to assist him. “All I wanted to do was make her proud, and now I can’t do that,” he said.

Another son, Brandon White, expressed bewilderment at Small’s motives.

“You walked away from a beautiful woman burning in flames, just because of what she said to you?” White said. “She said something to you, so you’ve got to burn her up. I really hope that you burn in hell.”

One of Small’s attorneys, Senior Chief Deputy Public Defender Deborah Weinman, said that Small declined to speak in court after hearing the statements from Smith’s family.

Weinman said, however, that Small “is aware of how serious this is (and is) aware this is his fault.” She said that during a recorded jail conversation with his mother, Small stated that he “would have to pay a price in the afterlife” for his actions.

Gibbons praised Smith’s relatives for speaking up before she sentenced him.

“You have wounded these people irreparably,” she told Small, “They are wounded in heart and soul, because these wounds will last forever.”

Speaking directly to Smith’s family, the judge said: “Don’t lose that capacity to love those people who are still with you….Make her life have meaning by the way you treat other people. Tell them about the mother and sister that she was.”

The case was investigated by the Bensalem Township Police Department and the Bucks County Detectives.

Approved for release by Gregg D. Shore, First Assistant District Attorney.

Office of the District Attorney
Bucks County Justice Center
100 N. Main Street
Doylestown, PA 18901 
Phone: 215-348-6344 
Fax: 215-348-6299

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