Man who sought revenge for a stolen phone pleads guilty to fire that killed a Senegalese family of 5

DENVER (AP) — A Colorado man pleaded guilty Friday to a house fire that killed five members of a Senegalese family in 2020 in a case of misplaced revenge caused by mistakenly tracking his stolen iPhone to the home.

Kevin 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 $1 million fine.

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 Aug. 5, 2020, fire in the middle of the night in a suburban Denver neighborhood because he believed people who had recently robbed him lived in the home after mistakenly tracking his stolen iPhone there using an app.

He is the last of the three 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 6-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 program for young inmates. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder under a deal that prosecutors and the defense 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.

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 emphasized it was ruling on the facts of just this case.

Colleen Slevin, The Associated Press