GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A man has been found guilty of four counts of involuntary manslaughter in a 2020 fire that killed his wife and three children.
It took jurors about an hour and a half of deliberations Friday to convict Robert Scales.
Scales showed no emotion as the verdict was read.
In the gallery, Natoya Aimery, the mother of two of the children, wept.
“It means the world to me that finally there’s justice for my babies and the innocent stepmother and their stepbrother,” Aimery said. “These innocent four lives that were taken. Justice has finally been served for them and everyone knows now.”
The fire broke out shortly after midnight on Feb. 5, 2020, on Dawes Avenue SE, in the area of 28th Street and Kalamazoo Avenue in Grand Rapids. Wanedia Scales, 35, and her son Xavier Woldeab, 15, and Scales and Aimery’s sons Robert Scales, Jr., 14, and Elijah Scales, 10, were killed. All four died of smoke inhalation, the Kent County medical examiner testified Wednesday.
Robert Scales was at work when the fire happened.
He came under suspicion after court records revealed his wife had filed for a personal protection order against him, claiming he threatened to burn down their home and kill her and the boys. But prosecutors said they didn’t have evidence to prove Scales intended to hurt anyone. Instead, he was charged with involuntary manslaughter. The PPO was not introduced as evidence at trial.
In closing arguments, the prosecutor said it came down to a fire pit he had used to illegally burn junk from his on-the-side junk hauling business. Authorities say the fire jumped from that pit, 5 feet, 9 inches from the home, to the building.
“No one here today is saying Robert intended that night of killing his family. We’re saying he was negligent to a point that he caused their deaths,” Kent County Assistant Prosecutor Dan Helmer said in his closing argument.
On Thursday, Scales took the stand in his own defense. He said he did burn something in the pit but that the fire was out well before he went to work. Under cross-examination, he said a box spring between the pit and the house was not there when he left and that he had not decided where to put the burn pit. But he also acknowledged he didn’t move the pit.
Scales’ attorney argued it was a tragedy for those who died and for Scales.
“Accidents happen,” defense attorney Anthony Greene said. “Accidents happen and even though he used ordinary care, we have a tragedy and the accident that happened.”
Scales was sent to jail pending a sentencing hearing on Aug. 25. As a repeat offender, he faces at least 25 years in prison.