The woman who was accused of setting fire to a clothes basket with 14 kittens in it in 2008 has been found incompetent to stand trial. The ruling says nothing of her mental capacity at the time of the fire, only that she is now incompetent to stand trial. Marshall County Circuit Judge Tim Jolley ruled that Jessie Mealer, 67, of Ruth will not stand trial on the charges. He dismissed the charges with prejudice, meaning they can’t be brought back. Mealer is currently in a nursing home. Jolley issued the ruling following a hearing in which an Alabama Department of Mental Health psychologist said Mealer is suffering from dementia. Marshall County District Attorney Steve Marshall said he will not appeal the decision. Ruth Volunteer Fire Department Chief Nancy Nolen said the fire is the worst thing she’s seen in her 10 years of service. In his ruling, Jolley said:
- Mealer suffers from dementia, and her mental condition will continue to deteriorate;
- Mealer is not capable of caring for herself;
- There is no substantial probability that she will become competent within a reasonable period of time and that the threat of substantial harm to herself or others does not exist.
On June 5, 2008, Mealer allegedly poured kerosene on a clothes basket that held the 14 kittens and set it on fire. The incident happened at a residence on Fieldcrest Drive. Six kittens died at the residence, and two died later at Westside Veterinary Clinic. Mealer, who at the time lived near the residence where the kittens were burned, was charged with first-degree arson. She was taken to Arab City Jail then transferred to the Marshall County Jail and later released on bond. Ruth VFD was called to the residence that day because Mealer allegedly lit a fire at the front door of the residence. That fire was extinguished, but firefighters were called back a few hours later because she allegedly lit a fire at the back door. “We got there expecting to see flames, but we didn’t,” Nolen said. “Then someone began screaming, ‘The kittens are on fire.’ We saw the kittens the first time we were called out there.” The kittens were from two different litters. “One litter was about 8 weeks old and the other was about 4 weeks old,” Nolen said at the time. “I’ve never seen anything so horrible in my life.”