FORSYTH, Ga. — It’s been almost two years since a Monroe County mother and son died in a house fire.
At a Wednesday morning hearing, the suspect – now 18-year-old Candace Walton – pleaded guilty to all counts in the case. That included charges of malice murder and felony murder for each victim, theft by taking, and first-degree arson.
Walton was then sentenced to life with the possibility of parole. The other suspect in the case, Walton’s boyfriend, is expected to be tried later this year.
Emergency units responded to a house fire at Walton’s home on Old Zebulon Road in the early morning hours of Feb. 27, 2020.
By the time crews got to the fire, the home was fully engulfed and two bodies were found inside shortly after.
One of the victims was identified as Walton’s 21-year-old brother with special needs, Gerald Walton, and the other was her mother, Tasha Vandiver.
Candace was found later that afternoon in McCracken County, Kentucky, when US Marshals pulled her over in her mother’s stolen Chevy Malibu. She was initially believed to be the female victim in the fire until she was arrested.
One of Gerald’s former teachers at Mary Persons said he was kind to everyone he met.
"He just loved life. He would never say anything negative...just to be around him, he was just happy all the time, and I think that is probably what we need to take away from that. Love one another no matter what," Ellen Criswell told 13WMAZ.
Days later, Candace’s boyfriend in Oregon was named a person of interest (they met when he briefly lived in Monroe County). District Attorney Jonathan Adams said it appeared she was on her way to him when she was arrested.
"There was a tax rebate that was cashed by the mom that was stolen, we believe by Candace, and she stole mom's car, the cash rebate, and was driving to Oregon to visit the boyfriend essentially to start over a new life," said Adams.
At the time, Adams said even if Walton was convicted, then she wouldn’t be eligible for the death penalty because of her age.
Her boyfriend, Kaleo Pangelinan, was arrested in mid-May 2020 in Roseburg, Oregon.
In a 2021 #13Investigates story, Adams told 13WMAZ that he believed Vandiver was trying to save Candace when she died in the fire.
"The sad story is we believe the mother was trying to save Candace. She was going into her bedroom to try to alert her about the fire. We know the brother was at the door of his bedroom, trying to get out," Adams said.
Their next-door neighbor, Bassema Dawoud, said Vandiver was protective of her kids.
"All she wanted was the best for her children with what little she had," said Dawoud.