Lucas maintains innocence Suspect denies she set fire to hide abuse of her son


Tonya Lucas returned to the witness stand yesterday to deny again setting the fire that killed six of her children -- and, this time, to deny charges that she set it to cover up evidence of child abuse by incinerating her starving 2-year-old son.

"If this was true why didn't I just take him out of the house?" said Ms. Lucas, testifying in her second arson and murder trial in Baltimore Circuit Court. "Why would I have to set a fire? I never set a fire in that house."

Prosecutor Jack I. Lesser responded: "Perhaps you didn't think about the consequences because you were addicted to crack cocaine."

"I wasn't addicted to anything," Ms. Lucas replied, glaring at her accuser.

That exchange was one of several clashes that arose during Mr. Lesser's cross-examination of Ms. Lucas.

The 29-year-old East Baltimore woman repeatedly answered the prosecutor with questions of her own and accused him of misrepresenting the facts of the case.

Ms. Lucas accused many of the prosecution witnesses -- everyone from the man who claimed to see her set the fire to an employee in the city's eviction prevention office to her downstairs boarders to the doctor who reviewed her son's medical records -- of being "mistaken."

"So that witness was mistaken too," the prosecutor kept saying.

Under questioning from her attorney, Mark A. Van Bavel, Ms. Lucas repeated much of her testimony from her first trial, which ended in mistrial when the jury could not reach a verdict.

She said she had never seen the state's key witness, Eugene Weddington, who testified she told him she was facing eviction and wanted assistance from the Red Cross.

Mr. Weddington had testified he saw her set the fire; Ms. Lucas, as she did in the first trial, said she had no idea why Mr. Weddington would concoct this story.

Ms. Lucas testified that she was in bed when she first became aware that her house was on fire and that she groped around in the thick smoke in an unsuccessful search for her children before leaping to safety. One of her seven children survived the July 7, 1992, fire. Ms. Lucas is charged with six counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of her other children.

In Ms. Lucas' first trial, prosecutors did not allege that she intended to kill any of her children.

Mr. Lesser said he did not press the issue of whether the child-abuse allegations would be admissible then because Judge Clifton J. Gordy, who ruled on the bulk of the pretrial motions, made it clear he would not allow such testimony.

Judge Robert I. H. Hammerman ruled evidence about alleged child abuse would be allowed into the second trial.

Accordingly, Mr. Lesser quizzed Ms. Lucas yesterday on her record as a mother. Ms. Lucas acknowledged that she had been the subject of nine investigations by city social workers.

She also agreed that she had been lax in seeking medical attention for her children.

Reminded that Gregory Cook, the son who at age 2 weighed 10 tTC pounds, had not seen a doctor for more than a year before he died in the fire, Ms. Lucas explained that having seven children made it difficult to find transportation to take one child to see a doctor.

She said the boy's two broken bones were not unique, that her other children had fallen and sustained similar injuries. And she ascribed Gregory's worsening condition in the week before the fire to a lack of appetite caused by hot weather.

Mr. Lesser asked, "Have you seen pictures of what you did to your son?"

"I did not do that to my son," Ms. Lucas answered.

"Would you agree he was like a skeleton and was near death?" Mr. Lesser asked.

"Gregory was sick since the day he was born," Ms. Lucas said.

"You've got an answer for everything," said the prosecutor.

Judge Hammerman admonished the prosecutor for his comment, which he said was inappropriate.

But Ms. Lucas answered: "Since you asked me that, I wish you would stop twisting the facts to how you want them to sound. God up above knows I didn't set the fire."

Prosecutors could present rebuttal testimony today.

Closing arguments are scheduled for tomorrow.

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