Trial set to begin in fatal Lombard arson case
A Villa Park man accused of setting a fire in Lombard that killed his former girlfriend and severely injured another man could face life in prison if convicted in a trial scheduled to begin Tuesday.
Todd Mandoline, 25, is charged with first-degree murder, aggravated arson, arson and criminal damage to property in the July 22, 2012, fire that caused the death of Paula Morgan and seriously burned Jason Cassidy of Villa Park.
Attorneys will begin selecting the 12 jurors and two alternates Monday, and Judge John Kinsella said opening arguments likely will start Tuesday.
Defense attorney Ernie DiBenedetto declined to discuss his strategy heading into the case but said he expects the trial to last about a week.
"There's a lot here to work through, but once the trial gets going, I think it will move swiftly," DiBenedetto said after a recent hearing.
Mandoline is accused of torching Morgan's car after he was removed from a party celebrating her 25th birthday. The flames spread rapidly from the vehicle to Morgan's Lombard house at 1028 S. Ahrens Ave. through an attached garage.
Mandoline admitted he shoved paper into the gas tank of Morgan's car and set it ablaze, according to prosecutors.
Morgan had several friends, including Mandoline, over earlier in the night, prosecutors said.
At some point, Mandoline became angry and began "screaming and lunging" at her, witnesses told police.
Partygoers pulled Mandoline outside and drove him home around 1 a.m. to avoid a fight, according to court records.
But within hours, he had walked about two miles back to Morgan's and was watching the party surreptitiously from a neighbor's yard, prosecutors said.
A neighbor who spoke to police also described a man matching Mandoline's description walking back and forth in front of Morgan's house.
During this time, Mandoline sent several text messages to the victim, according to prosecutors. They said Mandoline was "set off" when Morgan didn't respond.
Morgan's 6-year-old son escaped the fire unharmed and alerted several partygoers asleep in the backyard. Morgan's mother, who also lived in the house, wasn't home at the time.
Prosecutors say Jason Cassidy was with Morgan and her 6-year-old son around 4 a.m. when the blaze was set and was rushed to the hospital with severe burns and smoke inhalation.
He has been recovering ever since.
Mandoline has been held without bail since his July 22, 2012, arrest.