By the Way

Shocker plea in D'Iberville apartment arson, but there's more

ANITA LEE Twitter/Facebook

Krystal Gonzalez's guilty plea in the middle of her arson trial was a real shocker.

Criminal trials are almost always interesting and tricky to cover. So much happens during a day's testimony that you have to boil down the story to essentials, those being points scored by each side that make the biggest impression on the jury.

In the first-degree arson case against Gonzalez, a major point prosecutors made through opening arguments and testimony was her total failure to warn anyone in her apartment building that a fire she set as revenge against her boyfriend was burning out of control. And there was the promise in opening arguments that her boyfriend would testify that she called him from a computer on FaceTime and turned around the screen so he could watch her ignite a shirt in his closet.

Gonzalez sat through opening arguments and testimony with an alert but expressionless face, her dark black hair pulled into a tight bun, eyebrows arched.

It was clear she never intended to burn down the 20-unit apartment building where she lived on the second floor with Adam Dubuisson. It was also clear she was very drunk when she set the fire after a day of partying on Fat Tuesday 2014.

She claimed the fire was an accident, but her memory of the whole night was very hazy.

She faces 5 to 20 years in prison. She might not have meant to burn down the complex, but she did intend to start the fire. Crosby said after court that the enormity of her actions sunk in as victims testified about what they went through that night.

Pets died. Children still suffer emotionally after being dragged out of apartments as the fire raged. One witness who stayed in court after her testimony told me her son, then 3 years old, suffers from post traumatic stress.

Then there were the ladies from Arbor Properties, the company that owns the complex, Arbor View Apartments in D'Iberville. They attended both days of the trial.

The first day, seven of the women lined up on a bench behind prosecutors. They wore bright violet shirts with "Arbor Properties" stenciled on front.

The attorney for Gonzalez, Michael Crosby, had a fit. While the jury was out of the room, Crosby told Judge Chris Schmidt that the women looked like "a big billboard," advertising Gonzalez's guilt.

He wanted to know whether the defense should have a billboard on its side that said, "Free Krystal."

Schmidt admonished the women against wearing their matching shirts again. He said he knew they intended no harm, but the shirts were a bad idea. The second day of the trial the women showed up in their own blouses.

They said they were at the trial to support their tenants.  One of the prosecutors, Beth McFadyen, alerted them after the lunch break Wednesday that Gonzalez had decided to plead guilty.

Gonzalez tearfully admitted to the judge that she must have intentionally set the fire. Crosby indicated she really couldn't remember.

How much time will Schmidt gives Gonzalez when she is sentenced next Thursday, her 28th birthday? Before he decides, he will hear testimony from witnesses for and against Gonzalez, no doubt including family members who came from California to support her and, for the prosecution, survivors of the fire.

I don't know what should or will happen. But I do know judges tend to have a great deal of wisdom in these cases. As Schmidt told Gonzalez, she better show up for sentencing because the next 20 years of her life are in his hands.

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