Man convicted in New York club fire Arson, murder counts total 176 in 1990 blaze

August 20, 1991|By Newsday

NEW YORK -- "Guilty . . . Guilty . . . Guilty . . . ." The jury foreman called out "guilty" 176 times.

Each time, the 87 victims' friends and families wept quietly, some shaking their fists.

Julio Gonzalez was convicted yesterday of arson and the murder of the 87 people who died in the Happy Land Social Club fire. Jurors deliberated four days before returning the largest mass murder conviction in U.S. history.

The courtroom was silent as the jury foreman began loudly calling out the verdict. With each of his announcements, tears welled in the eyes of the family members of those who died in the March 25, 1990, fire.

"Yes, yes, yes," whispered Marco Gamoneda, hugging his wife, Karen, as the foreman rattled off the convictions. Gamoneda lost two brothers in the fire.

Gonzalez, 37, showed no emotion during the verdict, but afterward seemed nervous.

The jury convicted Gonzalez of two counts of murder for each death -- murder by depraved indifference to human life and felony murder. The jury also convicted him of first-degree arson and first-degree assault for the injuries sustained by the club disc jockey.

Because the 87 deaths stemmed from one act of arson, Gonzalez faces only one maximum sentence of 25 years to life.

Judge Burton Roberts set sentencing for Sept. 19.

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