Witness' story challenged Woman is on trial for arson, murder BALTIMORE CITY

March 17, 1993|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

Eugene Weddington told the jury he saw Tonya Lucas set the rowhouse fire that killed six of her children. The East Baltimore woman's lawyer then demanded to know how anyone can believe a word that comes out of this admitted perjurer's mouth.

Mr. Weddington, who is being sheltered by prosecutors because of threats allegedly made by the defendant's family, spent almost three hours on the witness stand yesterday during the fourth day of Ms. Lucas' arson and murder trial in Baltimore Circuit Court. As promised by prosecutors, he testified that he watched in curious amazement as Ms. Lucas splashed lighter fluid in her living room and then set the house ablaze.

He said Ms. Lucas hinted that she wanted to torch her house because she was facing eviction and thought the Red Cross would provide better housing. He said she smoked crack cocaine -- bought with $10 he gave her for an unfulfilled promise of sexual favors -- before lighting the July 7, 1992, fire. And he said he went to police two days later only after learning that the woman's children, asleep upstairs when the fire was set, had died.

The baggage brought to the stand by the 33-year-old drywall worker, who has served two prison terms for armed robbery, provided grist for defense attorney Mark A. Van Bavel's most aggressive cross-examination yet during the trial.

Mr. Van Bavel, who during his opening statement to the jury last week suggested Mr. Weddington and another man had set the fire, questioned the witness about drinking, drugs and lying.

As Ms. Lucas looked on with the sullen glare she has worn for most of the trial, Mr. Weddington said he had been drinking bourbon and beer and using marijuana and a small amount of cocaine for 12 hours before the woman lured him to her East Eager Street rowhouse with a promise of sexual favors. "I love drinking," he said. "I don't black out. You can never tell I was drinking. That's me when it comes to alcohol."

The biggest point of contention between Mr. Weddington and Mr. Van Bavel was the witness' testimony before a grand jury a week after the fire. Mr. Weddington said then that a man offered him money to act as a look-out while the fire was set. In December, Mr. Weddington told police he had lied to the grand jury because he didn't want his girlfriend and father to know that he had agreed to pay for a sex act.

Under questioning from Mr. Van Bavel, Mr. Weddington admitted he had also lied in court on an unspecified number of occasions.

"You can't tell me how many times you've raised your hand to God and lied?" Mr. Van Bavel asked. "Mr. Weddington, do you just say, when you're under oath, whatever comes to your mind?"

"I'm sorry I lied to the grand jury," Mr. Weddington told the lawyer. "If you don't believe me, that's too bad. I'm telling the truth now."

Mr. Van Bavel also made sure the jury knew that Mr. Weddington has been granted immunity from prosecution for previously lying under oath. The jury was not told that Mr. Weddington admitted to being high on heroin while testifying during a previous hearing.

Secrecy and security continued to surround the trial, as a sheriff's deputy stood behind Mr. Weddington as he testified and another stood in the rear of the courtroom. Attorneys remain under a gag order not to discuss the case.

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