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For nearly a decade, Kathleen Hilton has been in jail, though she's been convicted of nothing.

Prosecutors say the grandmother set a fire that killed five people, including three young girls, because she was allegedly angry her son's ex-girlfriend wouldn't let him see his two kids.

Her trial is set to begin Tuesday on murder and arson charges after an extraordinary delay while her lawyer fought to keep the jury from hearing an alleged confession she made after the Feb. 24, 1999, blaze in a Lynn triple-decker.

Her grandchildren survived, but the blaze killed another family in the building.

Hilton, now 62, has spent most of the last decade at MCI-Framingham, a medium-security women's prison where she works in the kitchen and watches television, said her attorney, Michael Natola.

In Massachusetts, it usually takes one to two years for murder cases to go to trial.

"Ten years is aberrational," said Michael Cassidy, a professor at Boston College Law School. "Sometimes, complex murder cases can take two or three years to get to trial but 10 years is well beyond the average."

Natola said he had to push for the statements to be suppressed — no matter how long it took. The case twice went to the Supreme Judicial Court.


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