A Marietta man accused of raping and killing his stepdaughter and burning down their house afterward to cover up the crime, has pleaded not guilty.
Dafareya Jamal Hunter, 39, who is facing the death penalty, was arrested Aug. 26, 2016, in Florida in connection to a July 23, 2016, fire at a home on Shadowridge Drive, located southwest of Marietta near the intersection of Powder Springs and Hurt roads.
The body of a 14-year-old girl was found in one of the bedrooms of the house after the fire had been extinguished. Later identified by police as Ana Then, Hunter’s stepdaughter, her death was quickly ruled a homicide.
Hunter, who was scheduled for an arraignment hearing on Tuesday, waived the hearing and entered a not guilty plea, according to Kim Isaza, spokesperson for the Cobb District Attorney’s office.
Hunter had been indicted on Nov. 3, 2016, on charges of malice murder, four counts of felony murder, aggravated assault, rape, first degree cruelty to children, aggravated child molestation, first degree arson and criminal attempt to commit a felony, according to his indictment.
His case was reindicted in April to limit the number of issues on appeal, with all charges remaining the same.
Hunter’s case had been slated to be the first death penalty case for Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds since assuming the position in 2012, but Reynolds became director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in February, with Assistant District Attorney John Melvin named as his interim replacement.
The death penalty case will likely go to trial under another district attorney, as Reynolds announced in February that Melvin would serve as his chief of staff once Gov. Brian Kemp appoints a new Cobb County district attorney. Kemp’s office has yet to announce an appointment.
According to court documents, Hunter allegedly raped Then, stabbed her multiple times with a knife and poured gasoline on her body before starting the fire. Hunter’s stepson was sleeping in the house, which the family was renting, when it caught fire but escaped through a window with minor injuries.
Hunter remained in custody Friday in the Cobb Adult Detention Center, jail records show.