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Huntsville man given life for deadly apartment blaze

HUNTSVILLE (AP) — A Huntsville man has been sentenced to life in prison for the death of a Madison Elementary School teacher.

At a hearing Wednesday, Henry Rice Jr., 46, admitted he started a fire at Hunter's Ridge Apartments in August 2004 that killed April Collins, 24.

Collins' neighbor, Kevin Kilgore, was also injured in the blaze. Rice was originally charged with capital murder, but pleaded guilty to a lesser murder charge and first-degree arson.

Assistant District Attorney Don Rizzardi said there was evidence an accelerant was used to encourage the fire to spread. The blaze started in Rice's apartment.

Rizzardi said Rice's motive was to collect $19,000 in insurance money.

But his lawyer, Robert Tuten, said Rice never intentionally set a fire or had a motive to collect insurance money.

Tuten said the fire started around a sofa where Rice was smoking cigarettes.

"He is very sorry about what happened," he said. "It was reckless, and we feel good about this resolution."

The judge ordered Rice to serve a term of 20 years on the arson charge to run concurrent with the life sentence for murder.

He must also pay $5,924 in restitution to Collins' family.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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