By Kathy Jefcoats
Henry Magistrate Robert Godwin found "ample evidence" to bind over a case of arson against a Hampton woman charged with setting her husband's trailer home on fire and set a $50,000 bond Friday morning.
"While we can speculate, the only evidence I heard today was she was in the home when the fire started," said Godwin.
Cassandra Kecia Cruz, 33, is charged with arson in the first and second degrees and with obstruction of an emergency medical technician in connection with the July 7 fire at 244 Wallingford Drive in Hampton. She is being represented by court-appointed attorney James Watkins.
All the charges are felonies.
Henry Fire Capt. David Adams testified for the state during the probable cause hearing Friday in the county jail courtroom. He said Cruz squirted lighter fluid in the living room and lit it before going to a back bedroom.
"She was beating on the window and asking for help," said Adams.
Her husband, Israel "Izzy" Cruz, and twin brothers who live next door, Tanorris and Jatarus Allen, helped her out of the burning trailer. However, when the fire rescue squad arrived to treat her for cuts and smoke inhalation, Adams said Cassandra Cruz became combative.
"She got into a physical scuffle with Hampton Police and swung out and struck one of my EMTs," said Adams. "She was cussing and exited the ambulance."
Izzy Cruz reportedly told Hampton police that his wife, who moved out eight days before the fire, called him at work to tell him she had a surprise for him at home. Hampton Police Sgt. Choya Barber, who did not attend Friday's hearing, said Thursday that Izzy Cruz was concerned that she was at the home since he'd changed the locks when she moved out.
Under cross-examination by Watkins, Adams testified that the fire was started by an unidentified accelerant and not by a cigarette butt that the defendant claims she threw on a sofa in the living room.
"Based on the amount of damage the fire could not have been started by a cigarette," said Adams. "Some type of accelerant started it. The point of origin was the living room."
Watkins then asked if it was possible that Izzy Cruz started the fire for insurance purposes.
"I don't see how," Adams said. "Because it was uninsured according to Mr. Cruz."
But Watkins then asked how consistent statements from the couple have been.
"Neither has been consistent in their stories since this happened," said Adams.
Despite Watkins raising the question of true culpability, Assistant State Court Solicitor Annie Deets got testimony from Adams that Cassandra Cruz was the only person inside the trailer when the fire started.
Adams said he understood that Cassandra Cruz had attempted suicide several times and was "very angry, very upset" because she found out that her husband started divorce proceedings against her. Izzy Cruz is being represented in the civil process by McDonough attorney David Slemons.
"There is no evidence that anyone other than her started the fire," said Adams.
Watkins argued that the statements of the neighbor witnesses were "shaky at best," and that because Izzy Cruz had keys to the home, he could have started the fire. He also argued that his client was upset when EMTs tried to treat her.
"A person can easily be hit if someone is upset," said Watkins. "I am not going to say she was on drugs because I don't know that for sure but she does have a mental illness history."
But Godwin, who does not take assaults on public safety officers lightly, discounted that argument.
"It doesn't justify swinging at an EMT," he said. "You'll never get the court to agree that it is OK to swing at a cop or EMT no matter if you're upset."
Outside the courtroom when the hearing ended, Watkins said he wanted to hold the hearing to find out the state's case against his client.
"It seems the investigation is incomplete," said Watkins. "I don't think she's guilty at this time. She admitted to flipping the cigarette butt into the house but the arson investigator said the fire was started by an accelerant. If she's guilty of anything, it's of having a fight with her husband."
Watkins said he plans to talk to the witnesses and will examine his client's background. He also did not rule out seeking a mental evaluation for her.