A Baltimore County Circuit Court judge has sentenced a Parkville man to life in prison for setting a fire that killed his upstairs neighbor, a 33-year-old woman who died of smoke inhalation as rescuers tried to save her.
Calling the death of Kathleen Marie McCoy "horrific," Judge Dana M. Levitz said Wednesday that Paul Kenley McInturff, 47, a disabled former maintenance man, should pay for the consequences of his actions -- despite having no previous criminal record.
"Can you imagine what she felt?" the judge said to McInturff. "It's difficult to imagine the horror she experienced. The reality is, she couldn't get out. Literally, her life's breath was being sucked out of her by that smoke."
Prosecutors persuaded two separate juries of McInturff's guilt. A judge granted McInturff a new trial after the first conviction because a new witness testified that he saw someone else start the fire. But that witness changed his story several times and did not show up at the second trial, which ended last week.
Prosecutors said McInturff felt that the building was a firetrap and was trying to prove that when he set the fire, but it got out of control.
McInturff was convicted of arson, felony first-degree murder and four counts of reckless endangerment in the Aug. 4, 1992, arson fire of the four-apartment house in the 2500 block of Wentworth Road.
At the sentencing, McInturff still insisted he is innocent.
Sobbing, McInturff pleaded with Judge Levitz.
"Your Honor, I've been traumatized for two years," McInturff said. "I heard my neighbor crying. I tried to save her. I did not do anything wrong. I've never hurt anybody. . . . I did not do it, your Honor."
Margaret Mead, McInturff's attorney, noted her client's clean criminal record, community ties and failing health as reasons to give him a shorter prison sentence.
But Judge Levitz said he was convinced of McInturff's guilt. "It's very difficult to face, to admit what you did," the judge said. "When you do something like this, you're held accountable."
After he sentenced McInturff to "the balance of your natural life," the judge was asked by the defendant if that meant he would have to wait 20 years before he gets out of prison.
"I don't know if you will ever get out of prison," the judge answered.
The fire broke out about 3:30 a.m. either just inside McInturff's first-floor apartment or just outside his doorway. McInturff fled out a back door.
Two other residents of the building -- Greg Swanner and Ronald L. Kramer -- managed to get out, but Ms. McCoy and Dorothy Holmes, who lived in upstairs apartments, were trapped.
Mrs. Holmes escaped only after tossing her 14-month-old son, John, to Mr. Swanner, and then climbing down a neighbor's ladder. But Ms. McCoy's window was higher, and she could not be reached in time.