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Cheektowaga man indicted in strangulation of girlfriend

A Cheektowaga man accused of strangling his girlfriend last month in their apartment, then setting her body on fire in the bedroom to cover up the crime, pleaded not guilty Wednesday in Erie County Court to murder and arson charges.

Thomas Murphy, 58, was arraigned on an indictment charging him in the death of Jean Hartwig, 63.

He is accused of strangling Hartwig sometime between April 22 and 24 in their residence in the Williamstowne Senior Apartments on William Street, then setting her on fire.

Judge Thomas P. Franczyk remanded Murphy to the Erie County Holding Center, where he has been held without bail since his arrest by Cheektowaga police April 24 at the apartment.

Two officers went to the apartment just before noon that day in response to a call from someone at a Wegmans store to check on Hartwig, who had failed to show up for work.

The officers knocked on the door, but no one answered. While they stood outside the apartment, they heard smoke detectors inside begin to go off and noticed smoke coming from under the door.

After the officers forced their way inside, they found Murphy standing in the smoke-filled apartment. They traced the fire to the bedroom where they could see a person.

The officers tried to put out the flames with a fire extinguisher but could not reach the person.

Doyle Hose Company volunteer firefighters arrived and extinguished the fire. Hartwig was found dead in the bedroom.

An autopsy concluded that she had been strangled.

Police said they believe that Hartwig had been killed a day or two before the fire during what they described as “an extreme incident of domestic violence.”

Murphy had been arrested earlier this year on a charge that he held Hartwig against her will, according to police. Hartwig was issued an order of protection instructing Murphy to “refrain from offensive behavior,” police said.

If convicted of second-degree murder and second-degree arson, Murphy could face a minimum prison sentence of 15 years to life or a maximum of 25 years to life, according to District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III.

email: jstaas@buffnews.com