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Hairston killings described

| Saturday, June 30, 2001

Kenneth Hairston told Pittsburgh police he didn't want his wife and teen-age son to endure the pain of his upcoming trial for allegedly raping a stepdaughter.

So Hairston beat them to death with a sledgehammer and set his Garfield home on fire, intending to die in the blaze next to his wife, homicide Detective Dennis Logan testified Friday at a coroner's inquest.

Hairston, 50, a jitney driver, was held for trial on criminal homicide for the slayings June 11 of his wife, Cathy Hurtt Hairston, 43, and their son, Sean Hairston, 14, in their Rosetta Street home.

After killing his wife and son, Hairston poured gasoline in the basement and set it on fire and then twice stabbed himself, police said.

Defense attorney Bob Foreman and Assistant District Attorney Darrell Dugan declined to comment.

Firefighters discovered the body of Cathy Hairston after they entered the home and extinguished the fire. Sean, who was found on the couch with severe head injuries, died June 13 at Children's Hospital in Oakland.

Goldie Hurtt, 67, the suspect's mother-in-law, who was bedridden in the second floor, was overcome by smoke but otherwise uninjured.

Hairston, a thin, balding man wearing a jail-issued, red jumpsuit, sat with his arms crossed and often stared downward during the hearing.

Logan gave the following account of Hairston's confession:

Hairston said he awoke at 6:30 a.m. June 11 and sat on a chair beside the bed he shared with his wife in their living room.

"He said he was afraid and scared because it was two weeks until his trial," Logan said.

Hairston was awaiting trial on charges he raped his stepdaughter and later attacked her after she moved to her own apartment. The trial was scheduled for June 25.

Although Hairston denied the rape, he feared he had only a 10- to 20-percent chance of winning the case.

"He didn't want to be away from his wife and child," Logan said. "He said he didn't want them to go through the stress of a trial."

Hairston said he wrote a letter found at the scene. In the letter written on a Christmas card given by his stepdaughter, Hairston denied the rape charges and said how hard it was to beat his wife and child, Logan said.

Sitting next to his bed that morning, Hairston said he noticed a 10-pound sledgehammer on the floor and wrapped it in a pillow case.

Hairston said his wife woke up 10 minutes later. Hairston said he slammed the sledgehammer into the back of her head after she turned away from him.

"He said he hit her a second time because he said he didn't want her to see his face," Logan said.

He dragged his wife's body into the kitchen and walked upstairs to wake his son.

Sean Hairston went downstairs and fell asleep again on the living room couch, where Hairston said he bludgeoned him with the sledgehammer on the side of the head. Hairston said he hit his son a second time after he made a noise.

Hairston tucked the hammer into his pants and walked to Bluff's Bar, where he drank two shots of E&J brandy and two bottles of Heineken beer, Logan said.

He then drove to a nearby vacant lot where he dumped the sledgehammer. Logan said Hairston later located the weapon for police.

Hairston told Logan he returned to the house and sprinkled gasoline across the basement floor. A pilot light ignited the gas sooner than Hairston expected and burned his hand, Logan said.

As the building became consumed by smoke, Hairston entered the kitchen and stabbed himself twice in the chest, causing superficial wounds, Logan said.

Hairston told Logan he laid down next to his wife intending to die with her, but remembered his mother-in-law was sleeping upstairs.

He told Logan he got up to unlock the back door, then laid back down with his wife's body. The last thing he remembered was hearing neighbors yelling outside before waking up inside UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Oakland, where he was treated for smoke inhalation, Logan said.

Erik Siemers can be reached at esiemers@tribweb.com or (412) 320-7997.

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