Correction: Alaska-Boyfriend Burned to Death story
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — In a story Oct. 4 about sentencing for a woman who burned her boyfriend to death, The Associated Press erroneously reported the name of her public defender. She was represented by Craig Howard.
A corrected version of the story is below:
Relatives of Alaska man burned to death seek maximum penalty
Sentencing for a woman accused of setting her sleeping boyfriend on fire and then fleeing the apartment has been continued until Oct. 14
By MARK THIESSSEN
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Michael Gonzalez’s mother is so consumed with grief that she can find no solace seven years after her son’s girlfriend set him on fire while he was sleeping.
His younger brother is reminded of Gonzalez’s brutal murder in the arson fire every time he gets gas or hears a fire alarm. Another brother serving in the Navy as part of his duties had to watch a video of the Islamic State burning a Jordanian pilot alive and knew his brother had felt the same horrific pain.
Members of Gonzalez’s immediate family traveled from Milwaukee to share heart-wrenching victim impact statements Friday during sentencing for Gina Virgilio, who pleaded guilty in April to first-degree murder.
Because Alaska courts close at noon Fridays, there wasn’t enough time for the judge to impose a sentence for Virgilio, so that part of the proceedings was set for Oct. 14, with prosecutors recommending a range of 30-70 years. Alaska doesn’t have the death penalty.
Virgilio sat at the defense table with her public defender, head mostly down while Gonzalez family members described her as a monster. After a recess, Virgilio returned to the courtroom, her cheeks wet. She cried and buried her head in her arms.
No motive was presented, but Anchorage Police Detective Walter Gilmour recounted the timeline leading to the death of Gonzalez, who worked at Moose’s Tooth pizzeria and dreamed of owning a recording studio.
The couple on June 7, 2012, celebrated his 24th birthday. At some point, Gonzalez either passed out or fell asleep on the couch. Gilmour said autopsy results showed Gonzalez had no drugs in his system, but his blood-alcohol content was .149, nearly twice the legal limit to drive. Virgilio tested negative for drugs or alcohol.
At some point early the next morning, she got a gas container and walked a quarter-mile (0.4 kilometers) to a gas station. She only had 53 cents, so a clerk at the station gave her $5 for gas.
According to authorities, she then returned to the apartment, stood and stared at Gonzalez for a while, and then doused the couch and part of the floor with gas. She returned to the doorway, lit some mail on fire, threw it toward the couch and fled.
But before she left, she later told her mother, Gonzalez woke up and said, “hot, hot.”
His body was found in the kitchen of the small apartment, with the cause of death listed as smoke inhalation and burns.
“I cannot begin to explain how that ruined my life for the last 2,675 days,” his sister, Trisha Gonzalez Flecha, said in her impact statement.
She added: “I replayed that in my mind over and over, and my baby brother telling you it’s hot, and you turned around and left him there. You didn’t give him a chance.”
She called Virgilio “a different kind of monster” and asked for Virgilio to be sentenced to the maximum prison term allowed.
Austine Gonzalez, Michael’s youngest brother, said Virgilio took him away from his loved ones and did so in the most horrific way possible. He’s reminded of it when he hears a fire alarm go off, when there’s a fire or when he gets gas.
“The pain that Gina has caused is irreparable and unforgivable,” he said. “The only piece of closure that I can hope for in this seven-year ordeal is the possibility of living my life without ever needing to worry about seeing a murderer on the same streets I raise my sons.”
Angel Gonzalez Flecha is Michael’s oldest brother and has been in the Navy for 15 years.
Offering his victim impact statement by telephone, he told the judge that part of his duties is to process information quickly, but admitted it was arduous task when he had to watch the video of the Jordanian pilot’s death.
“Your honor, one of my requirements is to process those items as quickly as possible and it took every ounce of energy, it took days for me to get through that video and through those horrid screams,” Angel Gonzalez Flecha said.
For someone to choose to kill another by fire is not a random occurrence. “You’re making a statement,” he said.
“I hope she knows that I will never forget, and there will be no rest,” he said. “I will do everything I can to know and let others know the monster she is.”
Gonzalez’s mother, Rosa Flecha, said her family doesn’t understand this, but she does not have any hate for her son’s murderer and that wouldn’t bring her son back. But she is consumed with intense suffering and grief.
“There is emptiness, there is intense pain that is constantly crying because there is no solace. Living has stopped because of so much suffering,” Flecha said in Spanish through an interpreter. “There is a moment when you don’t have to cry because those teardrops just come out by themselves.”
On cross examination of Gilmour, Virgilio’s public defender, Craig Howard, asked if she had told police during interviews that she was afraid of fire and if Gonzalez had been pointing aerosol cans like mini flamethrowers at her.
Gilmour responded that Virgilio had talked about her fear of fire and that Gonzalez aimed them at her as a game.
He said she recounted that during her first interview, which Gilmour said was a mix of truth and lies.
This story has been corrected to show that Craig Howard was Virgilio’s public defender.