A Connecticut man has been sentenced to more than 14 years in federal prison after being convicted of attempting to cover up his son’s arson that led to the death of three people.
Hector Morales, 51, of New Haven was found guilty of being an accessory after the fact to the March 2011 arson of a two-family house in that city’s Fair Haven section, which caused the deaths of three residents — Wanda Roberson, 41; her 8-year-old son Quayshaun Roberson, and her 21-year-old niece Jaqueeta Roberson.
The jury also convicted Morales’ son, Hector Natal, 29, of setting the arson that killed the three members of the Roberson family. The convictions came in 2013 after a four-week trial.
In addition, Morales was convicted of conspiring with Natal to distribute narcotics and to obstruct justice in their joint attempt to undermine law enforcement’s efforts to investigate the fatal arson.
Morales has been sentenced to 174 months of imprisonment to be followed by three years of supervised release.
Deirdre M. Daly, U.S. attorney for Connecticut, said the long sentence for Morales was appropriate because he “literally drove his son’s criminality — driving him to drug deals, assisting him in his escape from the arson, and … altering evidence and tampering with, and intimidating, witnesses.”
Feds: Motivated by small drug debt
According to the evidence presented during trial, Natal was a New Haven drug dealer who sold cocaine, crack cocaine, pills and marijuana. Morales served as Natal’s driver, facilitating his son’s sales of narcotics and collection of drug proceeds, federal prosecutors said.
Early on the morning of March 9, 2011, Natal set fire to 48-50 Wolcott St. in New Haven in retaliation for a customer’s failure to pay a small drug debt, prosecutors said. Seventeen people, including three toddlers, two pregnant women and two grandmothers, were in the house at the time.
Changed the color of van
Morales and Natal lived close to the Wolcott house. After the fire was set, Morales drove Natal away from the scene in his blue van, prosecutors said.
Hearing reports that a blue van was seen leaving the scene, Morales painted his van black in an effort to obstruct the investigation of the fatal fire, according to trial evidence.
Prosecutors said Morales and Natal then schemed with other family members to testify falsely before the grand jury in an effort to prevent the grand jury from developing evidence regarding their complicity in the arson.
The trial evidence also showed that, months before the fatal fire, Natal attempted to set a fire in the same Wolcott Street house.
Destroying evidence, witness tampering
Morales was found guilty on three counts of being an accessory after the fact to arson, and one count of destruction and concealment of evidence.
Natal was found guilty of three counts of arson resulting in death, and one count of attempted arson.
Natal and Morales were both convicted of conspiring to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute narcotics, conspiring to tamper with witnesses, and witness tampering.
Morales has been detained since his arrest in July 2012.
Natal has been detained since his arrest in June 2011. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 10.
Many agencies involved in case
The case was investigated by the FBI; New Haven Police Department; Connecticut State Police Major Crimes Unit; State Fire Marshal’s Office; New Haven Fire Marshal’s Office; federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General.
The case is being prosecuted by U.S. Attorney Daly and First Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael J. Gustafson, with assistance and support from the New Haven State’s Attorney’s Office.