Villa Park man convicted in murder, arson wants new hearing

  • Todd Mandoline

    Todd Mandoline

Updated 12/4/2017 7:36 PM

Attorneys for a Villa Park man serving 39 years for first-degree murder and aggravated arson in the death of his ex-girlfriend are seeking a new hearing.

Todd Mandoline, now 28, was convicted and sentenced in April 2015 by DuPage County Judge John Kinsella to consecutive prison terms of 27 years for murder and 12 years for aggravated arson. His scheduled parole date is Oct. 4, 2049.


Attorney Thomas Brandstrader has filed a petition for post-conviction relief alleging "constitutional errors led to (Mandoline's) extensive incarceration."

In his petition, Brandstrader alleges Mandoline was questioned by police for several hours on July 22, 2012, despite repeatedly asking to call an attorney. At one point, the petition alleges Lombard investigators told Mandoline they knew his attorney and the "attorney would not help him on a Sunday morning."

The petition also alleges Mandoline, who was represented at trial by Ernest DiBenedetto, was denied his "constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel" because DiBenedetto failed to investigate Mandoline's "lifelong struggle with drugs and alcohol" and use it either in his defense or to mitigate his sentencing.

Brandstrader declined to comment Monday, saying it would be inappropriate while the case is ongoing.

Kinsella is scheduled to hear the petition Dec. 13.

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The state's Second District Appellate Court affirmed Mandoline's conviction in February and the Illinois Supreme Court declined to hear the case in May.

In its affirmation, the Appellate Court found the trial court acted properly and within its power on each of the issues.

During his trial, prosecutors said Mandoline attended a party on July 21, 2012, that his former girlfriend, Paula Morgan, was holding for herself at her Lombard home to celebrate her approaching 25th birthday. Mandoline was asked to leave the party and did so.

But in the early morning hours of July 22, he returned and set fire to Morgan's mother's car in the driveway.

The fire spread quickly 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. One of her friends, Jason Cassidy, was found on the floor of an upstairs bedroom and was resuscitated.

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

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