Villa Park man gets 39 years in prison for starting fatal fire

  • Todd Mandoline

    Todd Mandoline

Updated 4/30/2015 3:31 PM

A Villa Park man has been sentenced to 39 years in prison for starting a July 2012 fire that killed a 24-year-old woman on the eve of her birthday and severely burned a 25-year-old man.

DuPage County Judge John Kinsella sentenced Todd Mandoline, 26, to 27 years in prison for the first-degree murder of Paula Morgan and an additional 12 years for the aggravated arson that killed Morgan and left her friend, Jason Cassidy, with burns over most of his body.


Mandoline started the fire July 22, 2012, on the 1000 block of South Ahrens Avenue in Lombard after being kicked out of a party celebrating Morgan's upcoming 25th birthday.

A jury convicted Mandoline in January of stuffing an ignited piece of a paper concrete bag into the gas tank of Morgan's 2003 Acura just before 4 a.m.

The fire spread quickly from the car, up the driveway, to the garage and eventually through the two-story house. Morgan was found unresponsive in the smoke-filled landing of the home's staircase. Cassidy, found on the floor of an upstairs bedroom, was able to be resuscitated.

"She was suffering. It's a painful way for someone to die," Assistant State's Attorney Dave Bayer said. "And lifelong injuries were caused to Jason Cassidy."

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Morgan's 6-year-old son, whom Mandoline had put to bed earlier in the night, escaped the fire unharmed and alerted remaining partygoers in the backyard. Morgan's mother, who also lived in the house, wasn't home at the time.

Kinsella said he doesn't believe Mandoline intended to kill anyone when he started the car fire but said Mandoline should have known the damage his actions could cause.

"That was a stupid, ridiculous, moronic decision on your part to go back (to the party)," Kinsella told Mandoline before handing down the sentence.

Mandoline's attorney, Ernest DiBenedetto, argued for the minimum 26-year sentence, saying his client already has been punished.

"He's already been punished far beyond what he did and what he intended to do," DiBenedetto said. "I believe the minimum sentence is warranted."


Mandoline expressed his "deepest sympathy" to both the Morgan and Cassidy families and told Kinsella he remains positive thanks to his "faith and relationship with God."

"I'm asking your honor for a chance to be a productive member of society and to rejoin my family," Mandoline said.

Morgan's parents, who each read emotional victim impact statements during the hearing, had little response to the judge's decision outside of court. Her mother, Gina Morgan, declined to comment.

"Well, 35 years is a long time but it ain't gonna bring her back. That's the bottom line," Richard Morgan, the victim's father, said. "After three years, it's finally over."

Mandoline must serve all 27 years of the murder sentence and 85 percent of the 12-year aggravated arson sentence. He gets credit for the nearly three years he has been held on $1 million bond.

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