Baltimore prosecutors are re-trying a woman for the 1992 killings of her six children. (Baltimore Sun video)
Tonya Lucas, the Baltimore woman being re-tried for murder 25 years after her six children died in a fire, left the second day of the proceedings Tuesday to undergo chemotherapy treatment.
Circuit Court Judge Marcus Shar and the attorneys involved in the case fretted over how to explain her absence to the jury, with Assistant State's Attorney Rita Wisthoff-Ito saying she was concerned that saying Lucas was receiving medical treatment would "engender sympathy." Shar ultimately told jurors Lucas had a "necessary appointment" that had been approved by the court.
Shar said Lucas, who has a constitutional right to be present during her trial, had given her consent to allow proceedings to continue while she received treatment Tuesday.
Lucas' conviction and six consecutive life sentences were overturned 18 months ago due to the discrediting of the arson investigation methods used in her case. Diagnosed with stage four breast cancer, she has been free on home detention and GPS monitoring despite facing six counts of felony murder.
Shar said Lucas has at least three more scheduled medical appointments, and it was unclear whether proceedings would continue on those days without her.
Jurors on Tuesday morning were shown pictures of her dead children that were taken at Johns Hopkins Hospital following the July 7, 1992, fire in the 2400 block of E. Eager St. At least three jurors appeared to become emotional after flipping through the pictures.
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A retired Fire Department lieutenant also testified about arriving on the scene and encountering Lucas sitting on a cinder block in the rear of the home as the fire raged. She had her head in her hands, and said, "My children, my children," Lt. Robert Jordan said.
Wisthoff-Ito pressed Jordan about whether Lucas was trying to get back inside the home, or if she was screaming at him to save them. Jordan said she did "absolutely nothing, just sat there on the cinder blocks with her hands over her face."
Prosecutors say Lucas intentionally set the fire because she was about to be evicted from her home and was hoping to receive Red Cross assistance. They also say she wanted to cover up evidence of neglect of a 2-year-old son, who weighed just 10 pounds.
Lucas' case was taken on by the Innocence Project at the University of Baltimore law school, and her attorneys say fire investigators failed to look into alternative causes of the fire and used now-discredited methods to investigate.