Skip to main contentSkip to main content
You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.
alert featured top story

Woman sentenced to two life terms for murder in fatal Waterloo fire

  • Updated
  • 0

WATERLOO – Denise Susanna O’Brien will serve two life sentences for starting a fire that killed a 9-year-old boy and his mother in 2018.

“You are evil. You killed two beautiful souls over a guy who obviously didn’t want you. … You spoke of luck and karma. Well, I truly hope it gets you. You don’t show any remorse for what you did,” Shelia Craft, mother of Ashely Smith, 32, and grandmother of Jaykwon Sallis, 9, wrote in a statement read in court. “You took everything. A piece of my heart is gone forever.”

A Waterloo woman has been found guilty for setting a fire that killed a boy and his mother in 2018. 

Prosecutors said O’Brien was upset her boyfriend was staying with another woman at Smith’s Dawson Street home and set the house on fire in the early morning hours of April 22, 2018. The boyfriend and the other woman escaped through a window, but Smith and Sallis were trapped and died huddled together in an upstairs bedroom.

Ashley Smith

Ashley Smith

O’Brien, 45, was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder in a November jury trial, and on Monday Judge Joel Dalrymple ordered the sentences run back-to-back, a largely symbolic gesture. He also ordered her to pay $150,000 to the estates of both victims.

Assistant County Attorney James Katcher said the consecutive life sentences were warranted because of the wanton malice that cost the lives of two innocent people who had nothing to do with the target of O’Brien’s anger.

Jaykwon Sallis

Jaykwon Sallis 

“This defendant had no regard for who she was going to be killing. She took the most dangerous means of accomplishing her act,” Katcher said. “This is what raises this to the level where it needs to have significant punishment to say we will never tolerate anybody taking the lives of completely innocent people.”

In handing down the sentence, Dalrymple said evidence showed that O’Brien knew there were children and other people in the home and set fires at both the front and back doors with the intent to trap everyone inside the burning house.

He also noted O’Brien had been beaten earlier that night at the hands of the boyfriend when she showed up at the house hours before. But he said she had enough time to cool down before starting the fire.

Defense attorney Wendy Samuelson said O’Brien maintains that she is innocent, and O’Brien declined to comment in court during Monday’s sentencing hearing.

O’Brien also was sentenced to time served for criminal mischief charge for breaking a window and TV at the Dawson Street home two weeks before the fire, a restraining order violation for returning to the Dawson Street home and a probation violation stemming from 2017 domestic abuse conviction involving a different ex-boyfriend.


* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Listen now and subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | RSS Feed | Omny Studio

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News