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Kalamazoo woman convicted in former Norway man’s death

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — A Kalamazoo woman was found guilty of murder Thursday for starting a house fire that claimed the life of a former Norway man in February 2019.

Public safety officers found Zachariah John Hayes, 31, dead inside his home after extinguishing a fire in the early morning hours of Feb. 3. “Heavy hoarding issues” and an imminent roof collapse made the search to find the victim difficult, officers said at the time, according to mlive.com.

Melissa Morgan, 33, faces a mandatory sentence of up to life in prison on convictions for first-degree murder and first-degree arson after a three-week-long trail in Kalamazoo County Circuit Court. Sentencing is scheduled for March 16.

Kalamazoo County Assistant Prosecutor Rebecca D’Angelo said in her closing arguments that Morgan killed Hayes after an argument because he would not get her drugs. Morgan lit Hayes’ home on fire while he was passed out inside, she said.

The defense claimed that Justin Flegel, a witness in the case who was at Hayes’ home the night of the fire, was the person responsible for starting the blaze. Defense attorney Eusebio Solis claimed that Flegel started the fire out of anger because Morgan told him she was raped by Hayes multiple times that night, mlive.com reported.

Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety Detective John Stolsonsburg testified he didn’t believe Morgan’s story.

The jury’s verdict came on the seventh day of deliberations.

Hayes, a native of Norway who had done mission work in Honduras, moved to Kalamazoo in 2014 to help an aunt maintain rental property.

“I think closure will take a long time and we constantly remember him,” Hayes’ sister Sarah Eversole told mlive.com. “We’re really happy that Melissa was held accountable but more than anything we think my brother would have forgiven her. We’re just happy that she can’t hurt anybody else.”

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