In 1992, Baltimore mother of seven, Tonya Lucas, had her world turned upside down when a fire ripped through her family’s rowhouse located in the 2400 block of E. Eager St. Lucas lost six of her seven children that day and only narrowly made it out alive herself after she chose to jump from a second-story window. As unimaginable as her grief must have been, knowing that most of her children were gone, life would get much worse for the grieving mother.
After fire officials investigated the scene it was determined that the cause of the fire had been an arson and indicated that someone had poured flammable liquid on the first floor of the home. Knowing that Lucas, a single mother, had been facing eviction at the time prosecutors quickly pointed to her as the culprit.
In what was once considered to be one of the worst crimes in Baltimore history, prosecutors in the case claimed that Lucas had set the fire herself in hopes of getting assistance from the Red Cross since she was due to be evicted from the home that day. Additionally, prosecutors also claimed that the fire was set in order to cover up child abuse that had been occurring within the home.
According to a report published in the Washington Post after Lucas’ sentencing, prosecutors painted Lucas as a drug-crazed mother who spent most of the family’s money and welfare benefits on cocaine. Prosecutors also brought up multiple reports from city social services, which contained child abuse accusations against Lucas and described her as an “apathetic” mother who had “no interest in her children.”
Lucas has always maintained her innocence but the case against her was enough to convince a jury to find the woman guilty. A judge sentenced the mother, now 53-years-old, to serve six consecutive life terms for the alleged murder of her own children. Now Lucas is getting a second chance to defend her case after it was determined that new advances in fire technology could clear the woman on all of the charges.
Mark Van Bavel, Lucas’ attorney in her original case, told the Baltimore Sun,
“The science of fire investigation has changed dramatically, so the fire investigative techniques used in the first case were deemed unreliable.”
Agreeing to take on the case, the University of Baltimore’s Innocence Project has successfully presented this evidence to a judge who agreed to overturn Lucas’ convictions last year. Lucas, who is suffering from stage-four breast cancer, is currently being retried for the murders.
Lucas told the judge that authorities encouraged witnesses for the prosecution to lie on the stand. One witness, Eugene Weddington, told the judge that on the day of the fire Lucas had offered to exchange oral sex for a hit of cocaine in order for her to work up the courage to follow through with her plan to set the fire. This version of his testimony is a stark contrast from the version he told the grand jury. Originally, Weddington had stated that he believed the fire had been started by a drifter who would stay with Lucas from time-to-time and had been angry that the mother of seven had kicked him out of her home.
After Lucas’ 1993 sentencing she told the Washington Post,
“I am innocent of each and every charge in this case. I did not set the fire that took the lives of my own children. . . . I never beat my child. I never beat any of my children.”
The retrial of Lucas is expected to be wrapped up sometime in mid-July. While it is difficult to speculate on account of the gag orders issued to Lucas’ attorneys, there is a good possibility that this new evidence may set Baltimore’s most hated mother free once and for all.