It's 6:30 a.m. when deputies see a column of smoke just off Highway
60. There's a raging fire inside the small white frame house. Windows
are blowing out. A man is standing near the back of the house looking
"Is anybody inside?" a sheriff's deputy asks.
The man just outside the fire's hot zone simply stands there, saying
"I asked you if there's anybody in the house?" the deputy repeats
The man gives an affirmative nod.
Deputies see a woman in the kitchen area. The officers hose each other
down then ease inside with wet blankets, risking their own lives in an
attempt to rescue the woman who has now fallen down, apparently unconscious.
The deputies reach under the woman to carry her outside, but her burned
flesh peels off on their hands. Her facial features are nearly burned
off. Although she appears to be unconscious, deputies know the woman is
in agony. Her mouth is wide open but she's too weak to even scream.
The officers roll the woman up inside a wet blanket and carry her
outside. By now a paramedic unit has arrived and two medics are waiting
to put the woman on a stretcher.
The frightened man is still standing in the yard near the back of the
house. He steps back as the rear wall of the flaming house crashes down.
The man says the burned woman is his wife. After repeated questioning
the man admits he'd been arguing with his wife, but says it was "nothin'
Later, arson investigators find traces of an "accelerant" inside the
house. "Accelerant" is fireman lingo for a substance that increases the
speed and intensity of a fire. The substance, in this case, is gasoline.
Confronted with that fact, the man finally admits, "I know I done
wrong." He said he "got mad" at her and later, while she was sleeping,
he poured gas on her and spewed more gas around the house. Finally,
"when she started screaming at me," the husband admits he tossed a
lighted match at his gasoline-drenched wife.
The woman was burned over 80 percent of her body. She was taken to a
hospital specializing in burn cases. She lived in that condition, mostly
in a coma, for three months. In 1992, the man entered a plea of guilty
to murder and arson and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. He's
eligible for parole now, but in 13 years he will "max out," and will be
released from prison.