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Homeless Woman Found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity in Fatal Fire

Posted Oct 02 2008 6:16pm

A homeless woman charged with starting an arson fire that killed four people in a Chicago apartment building last year was found not guilty Friday by reason of insanity.  Mary Smith, aged 51, had been accused of starting debris on fire to keep warm in a stairwell of an apartment building on March 10.  She was charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of aggravated arson and, after a three-day trial, Cook County Circuit Court Judge James ordered her transfer to a mental-health facility where she will be evaluated

Evidence in the case included a videotape of an interview with police in which Smith initially denied starting the fire, but later admitted to using matches to ignite debris, including a dollar bill.   acqueline Ross, Smith's defense attorney, said of the verdict: "It doesn't mean she didn't do it, [but] she was unable to appreciate the criminality of what she was doing." " [The judge] did what was right in this case," Ross said. "It's just very tragic. Mary's family is distraught."

Dr. Peter Lourgos, a forensic psychiatrist with the county court, testified for the defense and said Smith did not comprehend her acts to be criminal. He said he based his opinion on her long schizophrenic history and the videotape of her interview with police. Her lawyer contended that Smith was legally insane when the fire occurred and continues to suffer from severe mental illness. In remarks to the judge Thursday, Ross did not address whether Smith started the fire but instead focused on her mental state.

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