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updated: 5/18/2011 6:15 PM

Loud noises, arguing preceded Gilberts arson, murder

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  • Frank Hill

    Frank Hill


Before a fire destroyed Karyn Pearson's townhouse on Jan. 9, 2007, neighbors heard a couple fighting, loud banging and breaking glass before a silver Jaguar usually driven by her boyfriend sped off.

Richard Nolda, who was staying at his fiancee's townhouse in Gilberts, said he awoke at about 4:45 a.m. to a "thumping and pounding" coming from Pearson's townhouse.

"While I was lying in bed, I heard some shouting, shouting noises -- an argument." Nolda testified Wednesday in a Kane County courtroom.

Frank Hill, 33, is on trial, accused of killing his live-in girlfriend, 27-year-old Pearson, and using gasoline to set a fire to cover it up.

If convicted of first-degree murder and aggravated arson, Hill could face life in prison. His trial began Monday and is expected to last all week.

Nolda testified that he was sleeping with the bedroom window cracked open about two inches. He heard derogatory words describing a woman used. And he heard a clicking sound and glass breaking around 5 a.m. just before the fire broke out.

Eight fire departments fought the blaze, which damaged adjacent units in the six-unit building. Pearson's charred body was later found inside.

Mark Cannon testified that he woke up at 4:30 a.m. and could hear two loud noises through the wall that his unit shared with Pearson's. The noises rattled the plates in his kitchen cabinets, Cannon said. He also heard glass breaking before the fire began.

Alexandria Molson, who is Cannon's stepdaughter, also testified that she woke up at about 4 a.m. after hearing noises coming from the other side of the wall.

Molson drifted back to sleep, but awoke again at 4:30 a.m. to the sound of a soft crackling noise outside her window and soft pounding, like two fists on a wall. The pounding got louder and faster and then gave way to low-tone yelling, although she could not hear what was being said.

Then "I heard footsteps running, that's what it sounded like," she said. A few minutes later, Cannon came into her room and said there was a fire.

Prosecutors say Pearson was ending her five-year relationship with Hill and wanted him to move out.

The timeline established Wednesday in court is important because prosecutors say Hill set the fire and left and they have cellphone tower data and I-PASS information to prove it along with an empty gas can found the truck of Pearson's silver Jaguar, which Hill normally drove.

Hill initially told police he left around 3:30 a.m. to meet a co-worker in Schaumburg and later went to Indiana to visit a friend.

Neighbor Tina Yale testified that she woke up that morning at about 4:30 to go to work. Because she was robbed about eight years ago, she frequently looks out her windows. That morning, she noticed the Jaguar and Pearson's work-issued black Mercedes SUV in the driveway.

While she was ironing, she heard a car door slam and saw a silver car that "just backed out real fast and started going." She then turned on the 5 a.m. news and two minutes later heard a neighbor yelling "Fire!"