A father watches city trial in anguish Mother charged with setting fire, killing 6 children BALTIMORE CITY


When Tonya Lucas is led handcuffed and shackled into the courtroom for another day of her arson and murder trial, Russell Williams Sr. is already sitting in the spectators gallery.

He glares at the woman charged with burning down her house and killing six of her children, including a 5-year-old named Russell Williams Jr.

For about three years, until shortly after young Russell was born, Mr. Williams and Ms. Lucas were lovers. Now he shows up in Baltimore Circuit Court every day to watch as prosecutors try to convince a jury of the 29-year-old East Baltimore woman's guilt.

His foot taps nervously as he explains that he took some time off from his job as cabinetmaker for a Pikesville contractor because he would be too distracted to work.

"I don't want to go through life guessing what happened.

"I done settled myself with my son's death so the trial really . . ." he says, his voice trailing off and his eyes filling with tears.

"I know if that was the type of environment he was in he's definitely better not being in it any more. I know where he is now is better," Mr. Williams says.

"I know he loved me. I know that for a fact. I wish I could've pulled him out of the fire. I wish I could've heard his screams."

Mr. Williams says this, having heard the allegations that Ms. Lucas -- who is also charged with abusing another, younger child -- chose to spend her welfare check on beer and cocaine instead of paying the rent on her East Eager Street rowhouse.

The 29-year-old West Baltimore man says he used to visit his only child twice a month. "Last time I saw him was the weekend before the fire, Fourth of July weekend, when I took him some tennis shoes and socks." His relationship with Ms. Lucas was, by then, businesslike.

Asked to describe his son, he says, "Very quiet, a sweet child. That's what everybody says." He reaches into his wallet for a snapshot of him and a shyly smiling boy.

He remembers the day of the fire, how he rushed from work to the hospital and was called on to identify several of the children. The boy in a coma, that's 3-year-old Deon Cook, he told the doctors. He told them the girl on the life support machine was Takia Cook, 2.

"Russ was already dead in the bag. He was already zippered up in the bag," he says softly.

And then, within a week, came the news that Ms. Lucas had been charged in the children's deaths. Mr. Williams recalls his reaction: "Zapped out. Very shocked. Very shocked. Angry. Didn't believe it."

With charges come a trial, and with a trial comes witnesses with unsettling details. He names one that was particularly tough to sit through: "When the firemen said there were two kids on the bunk bed, one on the top, one on the bottom."

Yesterday, at a point where prosecutors have presented most of their case, Mr. Williams says he's inclined to believe his former girlfriend is guilty, but he's not absolutely convinced. He speaks on a day when prosecutors present a witness with potentially important testimony.

Jamila Keita, of the Central Maryland Chapter of the Red Cross, tells the jury Ms. Lucas sought aid from the agency after a kitchen fire in 1987. An earlier witness had quoted Ms. Lucas as saying she was facing eviction and wanted to burn her house down to get better housing from the Red Cross.

That witness also said he saw the woman set the fire, but his

credibility was questioned because he admitted having lied under oath to a grand jury.

Ms. Keita's testimony seemed designed to support the witness' assertion.

Still, the defense has yet to present its case, and Mr. Williams acknowledges that an acquittal remains a real possibility.

"I hope she didn't do it," he says. "But if it's not guilty, I'll really be confused, after all the emotions I've been going through."

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