US man Kevin Bui pleads guilty to starting fire over stolen iPhone, killing Senegalese family

A Colorado man pleaded guilty to murder charges on Friday for starting a 2020 house fire that killed five members of a Senegalese family out of misplaced revenge for a stolen iPhone that he mistakenly tracked to the house.

Kevin Bui, now 20, was a teenager at the time of the fire but prosecuted as an adult. He has been portrayed by prosecutors as the ringleader of three friends who started the August 5, 2020, fire in the middle of the night in a Denver neighbourhood.

Bui wrongly believed people who had recently robbed him lived in the home after using an app to track his stolen iPhone to the general area, according to prior testimony in the case.

Bui pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder. A plea deal reached between the defendant and prosecutors proposes a sentence of up to 60 years in prison – 30 years for each count.

The maximum penalty for each count of second-degree murder is 48 years and a US$1 million fine. Judge Karen Brody set sentencing for July 2.

Kevin Bui is seen in a booking image. Photo: Denver District Attorney via AP

Bui was seated at the table with his lawyers during the hearing with his hands cuffed in front of him and wearing a green jail uniform.

He gave perfunctory answers to the judge’s questions as his parents watched from the court gallery and listened to the proceedings as relayed by an interpreter through headphones. Bui’s father told reporters after the hearing that they accepted the plea agreement.

No relatives of the victims appeared to be present in court.

Bui is the last of the three friends to enter a plea in the fire that killed Djibril Diol, 29, and Adja Diol, 23, and their 22-month-old daughter, Khadija Diol, and their relative, Hassan Diol, 25, and her six-month-old daughter Hawa Baye. Three other people escaped by jumping from the second floor of the home.

Last year, Dillon Siebert, who was 14 at the time of the fire, was sentenced to three years in juvenile detention and seven years in a state prison programme for young inmates.

He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder under a deal that prosecutors and the defence said balanced his lesser role in planning the fire, his remorse and interest in rehabilitation with the horror of the crime.

In March, Gavin Seymour, 19, was sentenced to 40 years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of second-degree murder. Seymour’s plea came after a failed effort to get the internet search history evidence that led to their arrests thrown out.

Abou Diol holds his head by a picture of his brother Djibril Diol and other family members after a news conference in Denver, Colorado, in January 2021. Photo: Denver Post via AP

The investigation of the fire dragged on for months without any leads. Surveillance video showed three suspects wearing full face masks and dark hoodies. Fears that the blaze had been a hate crime led many Senegalese immigrants to install security cameras at their homes in case they could also be targeted.

Without anything else to go on, police eventually obtained a search warrant asking Google for which IP addresses had searched the home’s address within 15 days of the fire.

Five of the IP addresses found were based in Colorado, and police obtained the names of those people through another search warrant. After investigating those people, police eventually identified Bui, Seymour and Siebert as suspects. They were arrested about five months after the fire.

In October, the Colorado Supreme Court upheld the search of Google users’ keyword history, an approach that critics have called a digital dragnet that threatens to undermine people’s privacy and their constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

However, the court cautioned it was not making a “broad proclamation” on the constitutionality of such warrants and emphasised it was ruling on the facts of just this case.



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