Charges of first-degree intentional homicide, attempted murder and arson were filed Tuesday in Lafayette County Circuit Court against the father and uncle of three young children who died in a fire early Friday at their home in Argyle.
Prosecutors allege brothers Armin G. Wand III, 32, and Jeremy L. Wand, 18, set fire to the house to collect life insurance on Armin Wand’s wife, Sharon Wand, 27, who was badly injured in the fire, and their children, Allen, 7, Jeffrey, 5, and Joseph, 3.
The criminal complaint alleges Jeremy Wand, at the direction of his brother, locked two of his nephews, Allen and Jeffrey, in their rooms after setting the fire around 3 a.m. on Friday. Armin Wand gave conflicting reports to investigators about whether the boys could be heard yelling as the fire progressed.
Armin Wand also was charged with two counts of attempting to kill the couple’s daughter, Jessica, 2, who was rescued from the blaze by Sharon Wand, according to the complaint filed by Assistant Attorney General Richard Dufour.
The complaint alleges that after her mother took Jessica from the home, Armin Wand "was going to put Jessica back inside the burning home when a woman arrived and he stopped."
According to the criminal complaint, both men confessed to setting the fire at 402 Oak St. so Armin Wand, who was having financial and marital problems, could make a "fresh start." He offered to pay his brother $300 to help, the criminal complaint alleges.
The two were charged with three counts of first-degree intentional homicide for the three boys’ deaths. They also were charged with arson and with attempting to kill Jessica and Sharon Wand.
The children’s grandfather, Armin Wand Jr., said Monday when the fire broke out, the children’s father tried to reach the boys from outside the house because the fire was so intense. Sharon Wand attempted to go back in the house and suffered injuries when a beam fell on her, said her mother-in-law, Barbara Wand.
Sharon Wand was 17 weeks pregnant but lost the child due to injuries she suffered in the fire, her in-laws said. She remains at UW Hospital with third-degree burns over 70 percent of her body, they said.
An autopsy found the three boys died of smoke inhalation. Jessica was not seriously injured, authorities said.
"The criminal charges arising out of this tragic fire will be addressed through the legal process that starts today with the filing of the criminal complaint," Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, whose office is prosecuting the case, said Tuesday. "In the meantime, our thoughts should be with Sharon Wand, her 2-year-old daughter, and those mourning the deaths of her children."
The brothers are scheduled to make their first court appearance at 1 p.m. today in Lafayette County Circuit Court in Darlington before Judge William Johnston.
The complaint alleges Armin Wand "stated that he was tired of his family struggling from day to day, living from check to check and Sharon always complaining about wanting more money. … Armin indicated that the main reason for why he did this was that he wanted to make a ‘fresh start.’"
Barbara and Armin Wand Jr. said both Armin Wand III and Sharon Wand were receiving disability payments.
On Tuesday, Armin Wand Jr. said he hoped to learn more about the charges when he shows up for his sons’ initial hearings. He also lives in Argyle and defended his sons, saying Monday he believed they were innocent before Tuesday’s complaints were issued.
"I’m not very happy about it. That’s all I’m going to say about it," Wand Jr. said of the charges.
According to the criminal complaint:
Armin and Jeremy Wand tried multiple times to start the carpet on fire as Sharon Wand slept on a futon in the living room, Joseph slept on a couch in the living room, Allen and Jeffrey slept in one bedroom and Jessica slept in a second bedroom.
Armin Wand told the agents the two placed burning crumpled sheets of paper around the house, including under the futon where Sharon Wand was sleeping. He said Jeremy Wand used a lighter to start a fire on the arm of the couch where Joseph was sleeping.
The bodies of Allen and Jeffrey Wand were later found together, face down on the floor with the bedroom door closed and locked from the outside.
As the fires spread, Armin and Jeremy Wand saw Sharon Wand wake up, and she was on fire. At that point, the younger man ran out of the rear of the residence and Armin Wand, thinking he was caught, threw water from a partially filled small glass toward the futon where Sharon was sleeping. He then left the residence and stopped where Jeremy was standing.
Sharon then came out of the residence, handed Jessica to Armin and told him Joseph was on fire in the house. Armin responded by telling Sharon to move their minivan from the driveway.
Neighbor Heather Penniston told investigators as the home was burning, she saw Armin Wand holding Jessica near a window of the residence. When Sharon Wand returned, the father attempted to hand the toddler to her, but the mother’s hands were bleeding, and he set her on the ground, the complaint said.
Penniston said she picked Jessica up and gave her to a neighbor. "Heather then observed Armin Wand walk down to the end of the driveway," the complaint states.
Penniston’s husband, Brad Penniston, told investigators he heard two males arguing and talking about 50 to 100 feet from the burning home.
Jeremy Wand told investigators the pair was attempting to "make this fire incident appear similar to the fire incident that occurred in Armin’s residence in April 2012, in other words, electrical in nature."