Man accused in arson-murder could face death penalty

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Scott Swan/Eyewitness News

Indianapolis - Relatives of a woman and baby killed in a house fire are expressing disbelief over the horrific details of the crime. The fire was allegedly set by an Indiana National Guard member. Joshwa Carlisle could face the death penalty.

Carlisle, 22, wasn't talking about the allegations he faces as he went to court Wednesday. He pleaded not guilty to murder and arson charges and will get a public defender to handle his case when it goes before a jury in January.

Prosecutors believe the National Guard member smothered his ex-girlfriend and then poured accelerant on their nine-month-old daughter.

The bodies of Tracie Shannon and her daughter Juliana were discovered in a Lawrence apartment fire in September.

"Why would you even kill a baby knowing that baby can't identify you? Take the child somewhere. It's senseless that this has to happen," said Lona White, the victim's cousin.

Prosecutors believe Carlisle was worried his wife would learn he had a baby with another woman and was angry about $200-a-month child support payments.

According to court documents, when Carlisle was told about the deaths, "Joshwa did not cry or say anything, but instead looked up at the ceiling and put his shoes on."

Carlisle reportedly talked to a detective and wondered "if it was true that (arson) is the hardest case to prove."

The coroner said there were zig-zag patterns on the body of the baby that appeared to be from an accelerant.

"According to the preliminary reports, Mom was killed before she was set on fire. And that infant was burned alive," said Carl Brizzi, Marion County prosecutor.

The prosecutor says multiple victims and the age of the baby are qualifiers for the ultimate punishment.

"I would consider being burned alive is torture and that's another statutory aggravator to potentially file the death penalty or life without the possibility of parole," said Brizzi.

Some relatives say they'll support the prosecutor if he decides to seek the death penalty, and believe Carlisle must pay every day if he's found guilty.

"I think they ought to have a mural of the baby and her and put it up in her jail cell so he can look at it every day," said White.

White says she'd support the prosecutor if he decides to seek the death penalty in the case.

Carlisle enlisted in the National Guard in 2006 and was a paralegal with no disciplinary actions against him.