BALTIMORE, OCT. 4 -- A 30-year-old woman was sentenced today to six consecutive life terms for killing six of her children in a row house fire that prosecutors said she set to conceal the starved and battered condition of a 2-year-old son.
Calling it a "despicable crime" and "among the worst in the history of the city of Baltimore," Circuit Court Judge Robert I.H. Hammerman imposed the maximum sentence on Tonya Renee Lucas, who stood motionless before being led away in handcuffs and leg irons.
"I am innocent of each and every charge in this case," Lucas said minutes earlier. "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."
Under current state guidelines and with time off for good behavior, Lucas could be considered for parole after serving about 72 years, when she would be 102.
At today's sentencing, prosecutors said Lucas was repeatedly cited by the city's social service department for suspected child abuse and depicted by social workers as apathetic and having "no interest in her children."
Described by prosecutors as a drug user who squandered much of her welfare payments on cocaine, Lucas was convicted of setting her east Baltimore row house on fire early on the morning of July 7, 1992, after spreading flammable liquid on the ground floor.
Flames raced through the building while her boyfriend and seven children slept on the second floor. Lucas, her boyfriend and one child escaped.
Medical witnesses testified that Lucas's 2-year-old, Gregory Cook, was near death from starvation and had two untreated broken ribs and a broken leg he suffered before he died in the fire.
Prosecutors Jack Lesser and Marcella Holland contended that Lucas, who faced imminent eviction for nonpayment of rent, set the fire in part as a ruse to get emergency Red Cross assistance but also to obliterate the evidence of Gregory Cook's condition.
Much of the trial hinged on the credibility of prosecution witness Eugene Weddington, who testified that he saw Lucas set the fire.
Weddington originally told investigators that the fire was started by an itinerate boarder angered by Lucas's refusal to let him stay at the house because he was drunk.
He changed his story later, telling investigators he met Lucas for the first time just before the fire. He said she told him she faced eviction and considered torching the house to get Red Cross help.
Weddington testified that Lucas offered him oral sex in exchange for $10 for drugs. She then smoked what Lesser called a blast of crack "to give her the courage" to set the fire.