Mother says witness lied, denies setting fatal fire


From where Tonya Lucas sits -- and yesterday her seat was on the witness stand -- much of the testimony during her murder and arson trial has been a far cry from the truth.

Denying that she set the July 7, 1992, fire that killed six of her children, Ms. Lucas told a Baltimore Circuit Court jury that everyone from her alcoholic sometimes-boarder to her neighbor to her landlord to police detectives to firefighters to a city eviction prevention officer has fudged the facts during her trial. And Eugene R. Weddington Jr., the man who said he saw the East Baltimore woman torch her rowhouse, is an out-and-out liar, Ms. Lucas said.

In a mocking tone obviously meant to suggest that more likely Ms. Lucas was lying, prosecutor Jack I. Lesser asked: "So, according to your testimony, all the people you've talked about this morning and today made mistakes, right?"

"Some of them did," she said.

Ms. Lucas, who wore a black dress, spent more than four hours on the witness stand. Under questioning from her attorney, Mark A. Van Bavel, she said her first knowledge of a fire in her house came when she awoke to the sound of a smoke alarm.

And, countering testimony from prosecution witnesses who said she seemed oddly uncaring as it became apparent she had lost much of her family to the smoke and flames, Ms. Lucas said she reacted hysterically to the tragedy.

Tears running down her face, she said she saw her children's burned feet as they were taken away from the fire scene at 2424 E. Eager St. on stretchers. Recalling her reaction when a social worker broke the news that four of her children had died within hours of the fire, she said: "At that point I was just laying on the floor screaming and crying."

Mr. Lesser's cross-examination of Ms. Lucas was frequently combative, with the judge at one point ordering the prosecutor to lower his voice. When he challenged her on inconsistencies between her testimony and earlier statements to police, she said the police summary was inaccurate.

The prosecutor also asked Ms. Lucas to explain why Mr. Weddington, who said he took Ms. Lucas up on her offer of a sex act for $10 the morning of the fire, would lie when he said she told him she was burning down the house because she was facing eviction and hoped to get better housing from the Red Cross.

"So Mr. Eugene Weddington, who you've never met before, you've never had argument with, he comes in and tells the jury what really happened," the prosecutor said.

"I don't know what he has against me," said Ms. Lucas, who said she never saw the man until an earlier court hearing in her case.

Testimony is expected to wrap up today with the jury starting its deliberations tomorrow. In deciding who to believe, the jurors may consider testimony from a Red Cross official that Ms. Lucas had sought assistance from the agency after a fire in 1987. Ms. Lucas told the jury yesterday the Red Cross "came out" the day after a fire in her apartment building and gave her vouchers for clothing.

As she was led from the courtroom in handcuffs, Ms. Lucas was asked whether she believed she had persuaded the jury.

Her reply: "I did not do this."

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