Terri's Fire
A Special Eight Part Series
ANNE SAKER, Staff Writer
Raleigh (NC) News & Observer
Note:  Terri Hinson (O'Neal) died on December 14, 2013 in Green Sea, South Carolina.  She was 49 years old.  The cause of her death is unknown.


Chapter one: The day her world changed
The fire erupted in Terri Hinson's home early one October morning in 1996. It killed her young son. Her daughter almost died. Then, in the midst of her grief, investigators charged her with murder and arson, launching her on a quest for the truth. Her story, told in eight parts, begins today.

Chapter two: The investigation leads to her, but she knows it's a mistake
In its Oct. 21, 1996, edition, The News Reporter in Whiteville quoted Tabor City authorities as saying the house fire that killed a 17-month-old boy was an accident. Privately, authorities believed the fire was set, the child murdered and the suspect obvious.

Chapter three: Out on bond, her life highly restricted, Terri finds a new interest
Hours after Terri Hinson was charged with capital murder and arson, a judge appointed Whiteville lawyer T. Craig Wright to represent her. In 25 years of practicing law, Wright had defended two people facing the death penalty. He lost both cases.

Chapter four: On the Internet, Terri finally finds the help she seeks
Terri Hinson spent hours on the new computer. When she wasn't setting up programs t o help her fiance in his construction company, she was searching the World Wide Web. She looked for universities that might have put North Carolina's laws on line, but the General Statutes weren't available over the Internet yet. death penalty. He lost both cases.

Chapter five: Accused mother slowly builds defense, in part upon new friendship
In early January, as her mother lay in the hospital recover ing from a stroke, Terri Hinson Strickland got a call from her sister in Mississippi. Concerned about their mother, Ann Hinson said she had telephoned Terri's lawyer and blessed him out for doing nothing about Terri's case. She warned T. Craig Wright that she would come to Columbus County to picket the courthouse -- and she'd tip off the TV stations and newspapers, too.

Chapter six: The expert's tests unlock the mystery of the fire's origin
Before the Texans traveled to North Carolina the last weekend in M arch, Ken Gibson sent Terri Strickland e-mail to say he and Gerald Hurst, his friend of more than 20 years, were just down-home folks, really. In fact, Gibson wrote, Hurst would probably be wearing his ''uniform,'' but she shouldn't be concerned.

Chapter seven: As the prosecutor watches, chemist confronts investigator
Terri Strickland sat up in bed, yelling. Another nightmare. Even when good things were happening, she still had nightmares of fire.

Chapter eight: Terri is free and vindicated, but triumph is bittersweet
On the morning of April 17, Terri Strickland answered the telephone and heard the voice of her lawyer, T. Craig Wright. Well, Terri, it's like this, he said. They've dropped the charges.

  • Sources

  • ''Terri's Fire'' is the product of dozens of interviews, hours of document review, four trips to Columbus County, and one to Austin, Texas, over nine months.

    Terri's Tribute to Joshua
    Terri's poetic tribute to her son was posted on the SpiritLink web site in remembrance of his birthday.


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