Woman gets two life sentences in fire deaths of daughters

April 13, 1996|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

A woman convicted of setting a fire that killed her two young daughters was sentenced to two consecutive life terms yesterday during an emotional hearing in which prosecutors argued for harsh punishment and a bereaved grandmother tearfully pleaded for mercy.

Baltimore Circuit Judge John C. Themelis said he took into consideration Rene Aulton's limited intelligence and psychological evaluations, which showed she has had emotional and educational disabilities since childhood.

Aulton, 27, was convicted Feb. 24 of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of arson in a Nov. 15, 1994, fire at the Canton rowhouse where she was living. Her daughters, Christina Lambert, 4, and Natalie Aulton, 2, perished in the blaze.

During the trial, prosecutors played Aulton's taped statement to police that she had started the fire "to kill us all" because she was worried about Christina's father getting out of prison and coming to physically assault Aulton. Aulton's attorney argued that police coerced the statement from a confused woman with a low IQ.

Judge Themelis also gave Aulton a consecutive sentence of five years for the arson. But he said he felt she needed treatment and recommended that she be housed at the Patuxent Institution, which provides counseling for inmates and where she would have the possibility of eventual parole.

Aulton began a short statement, then broke down in tears and could not continue. "One thing I would like to say is that I do love my mother very much," she said.

Prosecutor Gary Honick yesterday asked for consecutive life sentences without parole. "This is an indescribably heinous crime," he said. "It defies every social norm. It defies every natural norm. It defies my vocabulary."

Aulton's lawyer, assistant public defender Mary Jo Livingston, said her client "had never properly learned to relate to others" and in many ways had the mind of a child. "I don't believe Ms. Aulton is an evil person," she said.

In a tearful statement to the judge, Aulton's mother, Sharon Aulton, said the state's attorney's office had added to her pain by refusing to recognize that she, too, was a victim of her daughter's crime.

"It's very awkward being the parent of the defendant and the grandparent of the victims," said Ms. Aulton, who works in the clerk's office of the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court. "I feel so betrayed by a system that I worked in for 23 years."

She told the judge that the trial had been filled with lies and that "nobody knows what happened. Rene doesn't even know what happened that day."

Mr. Honick denied that he had been cold to Sharon Aulton and said he had had a "cordial" conversation with her, given that he was prosecuting her daughter.

Sharon Aulton, who has custody of one of her daughter's children, said she tried several times to get social workers to remove Christina and Natalie from her daughter's care.

Pub Date: 4/13/96

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