On Monday, a retrial began for a 53-year-old Baltimore woman who was once charged for killer her six children ages 2 months to 12 years in a fire. Tonya Lucas’ murder conviction was overturned after the arson evidence was discredited.
While Lucas’ attorney believe she should be acquitted, Maryland prosecutors still believe there is enough evidence to find her guilty. When the incident occurred in 1992, it was described as one of the “worst in Baltimore’s history.”
In recent decades, a faulty arson investigation has led to exoneration or reversed conviction in dozens of cases in the United States. After prosecutors confessed arson science utilized to convict Lucas on arson and murder charges had been discredited last year, she was granted a new trial
During opening statement, Baltimore prosecutors said Tonya Lucas set the fire to get other housing through Red Cross and conceal evidence that she abused her undernourished 2-year-old son.
According to the lawsuit, Lucus told her neighbors who lived in the basement how to escape a fire on the night before the house caught on fire.
“These children, their lives were snuffed out 25 years ago by the actions of their mother. Their livers were stolen from them.”
Prosecutor Rita Wistoff-Ito said Lucas had offered oral sex in exchange for crack cocaine on the morning of the blaze. The man said he saw Lucas setting fire to lighter fluid that had been spread throughout the house.
A seventh child survived the fire, while the other six perished.
Lucas’ attorney, Michele Nethercott, told the jury the original investigation of the fire had been bungled due to lack of analysis and documentation, as well as refuted arson science.
“In the last 25 years, firefighters have learned a lot about hire fire starts, how they develop and how they spread,” Nethercott said in her opening statement.
She blamed the investigators for being more focused on who started the fire than how it started.
Since 1991, there have been a total of 36 exonerations in the United States, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Those cases included arson, partially because of misleading or false forensic evidence.