Prosecutors: Villa Park man admitted to starting fatal fire

  • Todd Mandoline

    Todd Mandoline

  • Todd Mandoline of Villa Park is about to stand trial in DuPage County on charges stemming from an arson fire in July 2012 that killed a Lombard woman and seriously burned another man.

      Todd Mandoline of Villa Park is about to stand trial in DuPage County on charges stemming from an arson fire in July 2012 that killed a Lombard woman and seriously burned another man. Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 1/13/2015 11:04 PM

"I hope you all die."

Prosecutors say those were the last words yelled by Todd Mandoline as he was being escorted from a party in the home that he is accused of torching just two hours later, killing 24-year-old Paula Morgan and seriously wounding another man.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Mandoline, 25, is charged with first-degree murder, aggravated arson, arson and criminal damage to property after the July 22, 2012, fire he is accused of starting at 1028 S. Ahrens Ave. in Lombard.

Prosecutors say Mandoline admitted to police that he stuffed an ignited piece of a paper concrete bag into the gas tank of Morgan's mother's 2003 Acura just before 4 a.m.

Assistant State's Attorney David Bayer said, during Tuesday's opening arguments, that Mandoline and Morgan were in the "on again" stage of an "on again, off again" relationship early in the week before the fire.

Things were going so well, Bayer said, that Mandoline spent several days with Morgan and her 6-year-old son, taking in a Cubs game and enjoying other family activities. The same week, Bayer said, Mandoline gave Morgan a necklace that would be the source of an argument that led to Mandoline's ouster from Morgan's birthday party.

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Bayer said Morgan unexpectedly canceled plans with Mandoline on July 20, causing him to visit her the next day seeking an explanation. The two talked, Bayer said, but Mandoline felt she was being distant.

Later that night at the party, Bayer said, Mandoline was seen tussling with Morgan, trying to pull off the necklace he gave her days earlier. About 1:30 a.m. another partygoer, heading home, agreed to drive Mandoline home, about 2 miles away.

Bayer said Mandoline, fueled by anger and jealousy after seeing Morgan hanging out with the father of her child, vowed to another man, via text, that he was coming back to the party. When he came back, Bayer said, Mandoline stalked the house from the yards of a few homes away, waiting for Morgan's bedroom light to turn off before igniting the car in the driveway.

Lombard Fire Department Lt. Michael Heimbecher testified that he and his crew could see flames above the trees on nearby Roosevelt Road as they drove the mile and a half to the scene.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Once there, Heimbecher said, he and his crew located an unresponsive man, Jason Cassidy, on the floor in the bedroom immediately above the garage and a second victim, Morgan, on the landing between the first and second floors.

Cassidy survived and was burned on more than 40 percent of his body. Morgan, died of smoke inhalation as she made her way down the stairs, Bayer said.

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.

Mandoline's attorney, Ernie DiBenedetto, said his client admitted to setting the blaze only after hours of intense questioning and with interrogators feeding him the information.

DiBenedetto said police did not tell Mandoline that Morgan was killed in the fire and instead told him that if he confessed to setting the car fire, it would only be an insurance claim and Mandoline could "be on his way."

"Either way, whoever did this didn't want anyone to get hurt," DiBenedetto said. "There would have been a much more direct way to do that."

The trial resumes at 10 a.m. Wednesday with the continuing testimony of Heimbecher, the state's first witness. The trial is expected to carry into next week.

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