State: Deadly Fire Was No Accident

The trial for a man accused of lighting a deadly fire in 2010 is underway.

Aunterrio Barney's trial began Wednesday at the Peoria County Courthouse. Barney allegedly set fire to a house on North University Street during the early morning hours on April 21, 2010. Four people, including a two-year-old child, who lived in an upstairs apartment died in the blaze.

Assistant State's Attorny Donna Cruz hammered home during opening statements that the fire was no accident.

"This fire happened because someone used an accelerant, gasoline, poured that gasoline, ignited that gasoline, and set that fire," she said.

Cruz said it was an argument with Youlandice Simmons, one of the victims, that drove Barney to murder. She claimed Barney made sure Simmons, her son, her sister, and a friend inside the home would not be able to get out, pointing to evidence that the gas was poured on the stairs leading up to the apartment in which four people were sleeping.

"That was the only exit out of the apartment," Cruz said.

Defense attorney Hugh Toner admitted there's little doubt that the blaze was intentionally set, but there is doubt as to whether or not Barney was the one behind it.

"The fire wasn't started through carelessness. The carelessness here, was on the part of the police department," he said.

Toner said it's also true that Barney, a Chicago native, has a checkered past. But Toner said his client was trying to get out of the criminal life, and a big part of that was Barney's decision to move to Peoria.

"He wanted a fresh start," Toner said.

Prosecutors said Barney admitted to a friend of his that he set the fire. The admission, apparently, came after the friend told him she'd filed a police report against him for a separate incident.

"No, I couldn't have done that," Cruz said, playing the part of Barney in the alleged conversation. "I was starting a fire."

Toner countered the statement, saying that even if Barney had said that, it didn't mean he actually started the fire.

Barney went on the run shortly after the fire. He was arrested a couple of months later in North Carolina. His trial is expected to last at least until Friday. If convicted, he faces life in prison.

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Topics : Disaster_AccidentLaw_Crime
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Locations : ChicagoNorth Carolina
People : Donna CruzHugh Toner
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