Boyfriend charged in killing

They began dating in their hometown of rural Ronan, Mont., but she had dreams that only the city could fulfill and moved to Seattle in June.

Last Wednesday, Stevie Marie Barber died when her bedroom was set afire. Yesterday, charges of first-degree murder and first-degree arson were filed in King County Superior Court against her boyfriend, 20-year-old Isaiah Ashley.

He is jailed on a $1 million cash bond.

"Anytime in a small community, when something like this occurs, it hits the whole community hard," said Frank Ciez, the assistant principal at Ronan High School, where Barber and Ashley had been students.

"I taught them. I knew them both," Ciez said. "She was a nice young lady . . . more interested in art and poetry" than a lot of school activities.

Ashley was involved in school activities "and was a pretty good student." Both have large, extended families in Ronan, Ciez said.

According to King County prosecutors, Barber, 21, and Ashley had dated for three years, beginning their relationship shortly before high-school graduation. But there had been previous incidents of domestic violence, prosecutors contend.

Barber moved to Seattle seven months ago. She got a job as a hostess at the Space Needle and began attending school. According to the court documents, Ashley called her constantly. A month after she came to Seattle, he visited her at the duplex, in the 1800 block of 27th Avenue, she shared with two roommates.

During that visit, Ashley allegedly assaulted Barber, was arrested and charged with domestic-violence assault. A no-contact order was issued in Seattle Municipal Court. When Ashley failed to show up for a court hearing on the charges, a warrant was issued for his arrest.

On Dec. 30, he returned to visit Barber and stay with her at the duplex. According to court documents, the day he arrived, he and Barber drank and argued. Ashley allegedly pushed a candle toward Barber's face, refusing to put it down.

Barber's roommate later told police she had witnessed the incident.

On Jan. 4, Barber and Ashley went out on a date. At 2 a.m., the roommate was awakened by the couple fighting in the kitchen. The roommate intervened, told them to be quiet and to go to Barber's basement room.

Court documents say that a few hours later, both roommates were awakened by Barber's screams. They heard thumping sounds from her bedroom and heard her shout "fire." The male roommate ran from the duplex, noticing Barber's room was in flames. The female roommate went to the basement stair landing, saw the flames and Ashley standing outside Barber's door.

She shouted at him to get Barber, but he allegedly replied "no" several times, court documents say. She told police she could hear Barber screaming from inside the bedroom. She ran upstairs to call 911, then returned to the stairs and again told Ashley to save Barber, but he refused.

Neighbors and the roommates tried to extinguish the fire with a garden hose until the fire department arrived.

Barber, who had burns over 100 percent of her body, was taken to Harborview Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead on arrival.

Prosecutors said Ashley was intoxicated when police found him outside the residence. The charging documents say the fire began with a flame held to combustible materials near the bed in Barber's basement bedroom.

Barber died from heat and smoke inhalation; the charging papers also say she had bruises on her body.

Her death has stunned Barber's hometown, a community of 2,500 south of Flathead Lake in Western Montana.

Barber was "one of those kids who always had a smile," Ciez recalled. "She was very caring, very sharing, very peaceful."

Her funeral was scheduled for today at the Christian Destiny Center in Ronan. Ashley is to be arraigned in King County Superior Court tomorrow.

Nancy Bartley's e-mail address is