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Thursday, December 23, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Keller Confesses In Fatal Arson

Saying he wants to take responsibility and go back to prison, serial arsonist Paul Kenneth Keller has confessed to setting the fire that killed three elderly women last year, his attorney confirms.

Royce Ferguson, the Everett lawyer who represented Keller on the earlier arson charges, said today, "He knows he's going to be spending the rest of his life in prison, and this sort of seals that."

Keller was brought from the state prison at Clallam Bay to Seattle and charged on Tuesday with three counts of first-degree murder and one of arson in the fire at the Four Freedoms House retirement home on Sept. 22, 1992.

Ferguson said Keller also wanted people to know he never intended to kill anybody. Investigators, however, say he deliberately selected vulnerable victims - the elderly, families with children - and set fires when they were most likely to be sleeping.

Sources close to the investigation said Keller signed a statement that admitted in general terms that he set fires in a third-floor lobby and a laundry room of the North Seattle retirement facility.

He denied, however, setting a fire that destroyed a business building in the 2400 block of Northwest Market Street that same night, sources said.

Killed in the retirement-home fire were Bertha Nelson, 93; Mary Dorris, 77; and Adeline Stockness, 70. The King County medical examiner's staff ruled Stockness died of a heart attack brought on by the fire, and Nelson and Dorris died of inhaling the dense smoke from burning plastic in lobby furniture.

King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng, announcing the murder charges, said Keller faces a sentencing range of 103 to 137 years if convicted. Keller already is serving a 75-year term for setting dozens of fires in Snohomish, King, Pierce and Kittitas counties during a six-month period that began Aug. 6, 1992.

Keller was moved yesterday, at his request, to the Snohomish County Jail. He is to be arraigned Tuesday in King County Superior Court.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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