A Jefferson Parish judge refused last week to toss out a manslaughter charge against a Gretna woman accused of torching her bakery last year, rejecting a defense attorney’s contention that the fatal fire amounted to a victimless crime.
The blaze mortally wounded Marta Lopez-Alvarado, 40, and severely injured the bakery’s owner, Lesly Martinez, 42, who received third-degree burns to more than 26 percent of her body and was jailed after her convalescence.
Prosecutors accused Martinez of setting fire to her Whitney Avenue business on June 21 in an ill-fated attempt to collect insurance proceeds.
Martinez was first booked with second-degree murder and aggravated arson but later was charged by prosecutors with manslaughter.
Her defense attorney, Juan C. Labadie, filed a motion to quash the bill of information, arguing that even the lesser charge was inappropriate because Lopez-Alvarado was not a bystander but, according to a witness, a co-conspirator in the arson. In fact, because the victim’s injuries were more severe than Martinez’s, Labadie said, it’s safe to assume she was closer to the gasoline-fueled fire when it started.
“Marta Lopez-Alvarado was not a third party who fell prey to the fire,” Labadie wrote in a court filing, adding that prosecutors could not prove which woman ignited the fire. “She was a direct participant who assumed the risk of her actions.”
Assistant District Attorney Jerry Smith countered that Martinez committed a felony in setting the fire that — while perhaps not intentionally — caused the death of her friend, who received burns to approximately 80 percent of her body and died several days later.
While Martinez initially “concocted two stories” to attempt to explain her injuries, Smith wrote, she “eventually provided detectives with a videotaped statement admitting to burning the building for insurance proceeds.”
Judge John J. Molaison Jr., of 24th Judicial District Court, denied Labadie’s motion to quash and set June 9 for Martinez’s next court date, a status hearing on a possible plea deal, according to court documents. Labadie did not respond to a request for comment Monday afternoon.
Authorities have said they uncovered persuasive evidence the fire was intentionally set, including statements from a woman who said she was approached about participating in the insurance scheme.
Firefighters dispatched to the fire at 2:12 a.m. encountered flames shooting through the bakery’s roof. The initial explosion was so forceful the front doors of the shop were blasted into the parking lot, investigators said.
Martinez and Lopez-Alvarado allegedly fled the bakery but did not immediately go to the hospital, despite their extensive burns. When they finally sought medical treatment, they provided aliases and false stories and they pretended not to know each other, authorities said.
Investigators said they began to put the pieces together after the women were admitted to the hospital, in part because treating facilities are required to report significant burn injuries.
Lopez-Alvarado, who according to authorities was in the country without legal permission, succumbed to her injuries June 29.
Prosecutors also have charged Martinez’s husband, Miguel Martinez, as an accessory after the fact, claiming he lied to detectives during the investigation.
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