When Tonya Lucas goes on trial for a second time in the deaths of six of her children, prosecutors can tell the jury she set the family's East Baltimore rowhouse on fire hoping to cover up her alleged abuse of one child by incinerating the body, a judge ruled yesterday.
Baltimore Circuit Court Chief Judge Robert I.H. Hammerman granted a motion allowing the prosecution to present evidence of Ms. Lucas' alleged abuse of a 2-year-old son who weighed 10 pounds and showed signs of broken bones -- evidence not allowed into her first murder trial, which ended in a hung jury.
"The defense, it seems to me, is right up front challenging the state to prove a motive," Judge Hammerman said, noting that prosecutors face the burden of showing a mother could set out to harm her children. "Clearly, the purpose that the state has in wanting to introduce this evidence is to show motive."
Ms. Lucas' attorney, Mark A. Van Bavel, said he will consult with a forensic pathologist who he expects will dispute the abuse allegations.
Prosecutor Jack I. Lesser told Judge Hammerman he did not press the issue of whether the child abuse allegations would be admissible in Ms. Lucas' first trial because Judge Clifton J. Gordy, who ruled on the bulk of the pre-trial motions, made it clear he would not allow such testimony.
During that first trial, conducted before Judge Hammerman, prosecutors said Ms. Lucas set the July 7, 1992, fire because she was facing eviction and was seeking financial assistance from the Red Cross. In the trial, prosecutors did not accuse Ms. Lucas of intending to kill any of her children, but proceeded on a felony murder theory stemming from her alleged arson.
The 29-year-old Ms. Lucas is being held without bail awaiting the start of her second trial on June 29. She is to receive a separate trial on child abuse charges. Mr. Van Bavel said his client continues to deny all charges "to the greatest extent humanly possible."
During yesterday's hearing, Mr. Van Bavel accused prosecutors of switching motives in midstream and dismissed as far-fetched the latest theory that Ms. Lucas set the fire because an eviction would have led to certain exposure of her alleged abuse. He said an emergency grant to stave off eviction was available for the asking, and that Ms. Lucas could have been evicted on July 6, but no fire was set on that day.
Mr. Lesser said Ms. Lucas' familiarity with eviction procedures made it likely she knew she would not be evicted until July 7 and that the emergency grant was not necessarily available to her.
In arguing his motion yesterday, Mr. Lesser said that Ms. Lucas has shown herself in court and in interviews with the media to be a liar. He pointed to an April 23 Sun article in which she accused homicide detectives of setting out to frame her and to an unedited videotape of a WBAL-TV interview, obtained under court order, in which she responds to the child abuse allegations by first changing the subject and then saying authorities have no proof.
On April 2, one day after a mistrial was declared in the first trial, Ms. Lucas' boyfriend, 29-year-old William Cook III, was arrested and charged with abusing two of the couple's children, including the 2-year-old boy.