A man questioned as a person of interest in a Metairie apartment fire that killed three people this year has been described in new court documents as the “primary suspect” in the alleged arson.
The suspect, Terrill Normand Jr., 58, remains jailed in Jefferson Parish on unrelated charges that he beat a man unconscious with a pipe about three months before the blaze.
Although Normand has not been charged in connection with the fire, court filings make clear he is at the center of the triple homicide investigation.
In recent weeks, detectives received a search warrant to examine Normand’s medical records at the Department of Veterans Affairs in New Orleans, seeking to determine whether he received psychiatric treatment after his service in the Army.
That request appears to have stemmed from accounts by residents at the apartment complex that burned. They told authorities they believed Normand was suffering from “some type of mental defect or disorder.”
“They described Normand as a violent and possessive person,” the warrant says. “Several witnesses have had either verbal or physical conflicts with Normand in the past.”
The two-alarm fire was reported at 2:48 a.m. June 10 at 2308 Harvard Ave. Authorities determined the fire, which began in a stairwell outside the apartment, had been intentionally set and that the victims were unable to escape. A police dog detected “an accelerant in the outside hallway area, which leads into the apartment where the victims perished,” the search warrant says.
Deputies and firefighters responding to the fire found the complex engulfed in flames. When the blaze was extinguished, they found three severely burned bodies in Apartment 6.
The Jefferson Parish Coroner’s Office identified the victims as Jeffrey Evans, 58; Melissa M. Blackwell, 44; and Dennis A. Murphy, 33. All three died of smoke inhalation.
A fourth person escaped the fire by leaping from a second-floor bedroom window, apparently believing the others inside the apartment would do the same. That 44-year-old man suffered a leg injury.
Sheriff Newell Normand, who is not related to the suspect, has said Terrill Normand once had a relationship and “infatuation” with one of the victims, and that evidence placed him near the scene of the fire. The search warrant says detectives determined early on that Normand had been “inside the apartment and engaged the victims in a verbal altercation,” and that he was later seen riding his bike near the complex.
At the time of the fire, authorities said Terrill Normand declined to speak with investigators after he was booked on an unrelated warrant. The search warrant, however, says Normand agreed to an interview and provided “limited information as to his whereabouts during the course of the days.”
He told investigators he was a veteran of the Vietnam War and served in the U.S. Marine Corps, the warrant says. However, “Normand’s military records reflect that he served in the United States Army for no longer than 30 days and was not deployed to Vietnam,” the warrant says.
A Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office spokesman did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday on the status of the investigation.
Normand has an extensive arrest record in Jefferson Parish dating back to at least 1994, including several violent offenses. In 2006, for instance, he was booked with aggravated rape and false imprisonment after a woman accused him of holding her against her will for six hours.
An arrest report said Normand, who was homeless at the time, punched the woman in the mouth, held a knife to her neck, tied her leg to his and repeatedly raped her. The District Attorney’s Office refused the charges a few months after Normand’s arrest, according to court documents.
In 2011, Normand was booked with aggravated domestic battery, resisting arrest by violence and battery of a police officer. In that incident, he allegedly slammed his live-in girlfriend’s head “through the front glass window as well as a sheetrock wall,” an arrest report says.
Normand is currently jailed on charges of disturbing the peace, panhandling on a highway and second-degree battery. The battery allegedly occurred March 18 at 2304 Harvard Ave.
The authorities accused Normand of striking a man in the head and ribs with a pipe in an alcohol-fueled assault. A tenant of the apartment complex told investigators Normand had been arguing with the victim in front of the apartments about 8 p.m. After returning about 10 minutes later, the resident found the victim “laying on his back and bleeding from his face,” an arrest report says.
The victim, who was in and out of consciousness at the scene, suffered three broken ribs but said he did not wish to pursue charges. The District Attorney’s Office filed charges nevertheless last month.
News that Normand is considered the main suspect in the June fire came as a relief to loved ones of Murphy, one of the victims.
Danielle Rumpf, who said she grew up with Murphy and considered him a brother, said the fire devastated her family and has left them grasping for answers.
“I want to be there in the courtroom,” she said, expressing hope that murder charges would soon be filed. “I don’t have any closure as to why this happened.”
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.