A Baltimore jury found Rene Elizabeth Aulton guilty yesterday of murdering her two young daughters in a 1994 rowhouse fire that prosecutors say she set to win over a boyfriend.
After nearly five hours of deliberation, the Baltimore Circuit Court jury found Aulton guilty of arson and first-degree murder in the deaths of Christina Marie Lambert, 4, and Natalie Michelle Aulton, 2.
Described earlier by a prosecutor as a "cold-blooded killer," Aulton sat at the trial table yesterday in peach-colored pants and leg chains, looking pale and much younger than her 27 years.
Aulton and her mother, Sharon Aulton, began to weep simultaneously as the court clerk polled each juror for the guilty verdicts. As she later was led handcuffed from the courtroom, Aulton glanced at her mother for the first time during the verdict ++ -- and the two women again burst into tears.
Mary Jo Livingston, Aulton's public defender, was visibly shaken by yesterday's verdict. Disappointment, she said, "is an understatement." She said she will appeal the verdict.
"I felt convinced she was guilty because of the tapes," said juror Patricia Stewart, referring to the recorded confession Aulton made to police eight days after the fire.
Ms. Stewart said she and the other jurors also believed Aulton was guilty because of a lack of evidence that the fire started accidentally.
The girls died shortly after midnight on Nov. 15, 1994, in a rowhouse Aulton rented in the 2300 block of Fleet St. in Southeast Baltimore.
Prosecutors said they will seek a life sentence without parole at a hearing April 12.
During the trial they said Aulton had been depressed in the days before the fire because she believed a boyfriend didn't want her children.
But the former boyfriend, Frank Wooters, has denied that the children had gotten in the way of his relationship with Aulton.
In closing arguments this week, Assistant State's Attorney Donald Huskey said Aulton started the fire, then "sat out there and smoked cigarettes" while neighbors tried to save the children.
He noted that she told police she had set the fire in a bedroom closet, left her daughters in the room, then waited 10 to 15 minutes "watching that fire burn, until she was sure the children wouldn't get out alive."
During the trial, Ms. Livingston accused police of tricking her client -- whom she described as "a handicapped individual who gets confused and easily persuaded" -- into confessing.
On the witness stand, Aulton recanted the confession that was played to the jury, saying she made the statements in a dream-like "flashback" she no longer could remember.