Teen who set fire that killed his mother accepts plea deal

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Fifteen-year-old Jonathan Ray won’t have to go through a trial.

He agreed to accept a prison sentence for setting fire to his Southeast Shelby County home in April of 2013 and killing his mom, 45-year-old Gwendolyn Wallace, who was trapped inside.

Ray told the judge he accepts the plea.

Outside court, his stepfather, James Wallace, who was Gwendolyn Wallace’s husband of nearly five years, said he had talked with the teen moments earlier and the sentence – 25 years for second degree murder and 15 years for arson – was better than a trial.

“Just didn’t think that was good for him at his age, 15, I did not want him to go to trial,” said Wallace.

Ray was on suspension from school at the time of the fire.

His mom was supposed to take him back to school that day, but the two of them argued and Ray poured gasoline on the steps of the house and set them ablaze.

His mom, who was upstairs, couldn’t get out and died of smoke inhalation.

Initially there was concern if the confession Ray made to investigators shortly after the fire was coerced.

The court was in the process of hearing whether that confession would be tossed out.

In the end, that didn’t matter.

The now 15-year-old agreed to do time for the crime.

“Twenty-five years at 100 percent is a stiff sentence, and one that was desired by the family of Gwendolyn Wallace,” said Shelby County Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Nichols.

“It’s difficult, very difficult. Victim and family member, all at the same time,” said James Wallace.

Ray’s 25 year sentence and 15 year sentence will be served concurrently.

On the 25 year sentence, he must serve 100 percent of the time, which means Ray will be 40 years old when he gets out of prison.

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