PR man found guilty of setting family on fire

AP News
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Posted: Sep 08, 2011 5:02 PM
PR man found guilty of setting family on fire

A Puerto Rico man was convicted Thursday of killing six people, including a Seattle couple, by dousing them in gasoline and setting them on fire during a family dinner on New Year's Day.

A judge also found Justino Sanchez Diaz guilty of trying to kill seven more people during the torch attack in the northern mountain town of Florida. He is to be sentenced Monday, local Justice Department spokesman Fidel Rodriguez said.

Among those killed were Sanchez's mother and his nephew Jesus Sanchez as well as Jesus Sanchez's fiance, Kate Donahue of Seattle, who was visiting Puerto Rico to meet her husband-to-be's family following their engagement.

"Accountability has been served, but justice never," Donahue's mother, Michelle Donahue, said by telephone, adding that she had been following the trial every day.

She said the entire family was still going to counseling and already had sessions scheduled for Thursday before the judge issued a verdict.

"It closes a chapter in this tragedy for us, but our loss and our grief will never know the end of it," she said.

Justino Sanchez, who is in his mid 40s, was accused of organizing the family dinner at his parent's house, then setting the guests ablaze with a homemade torch.

Jesus Sanchez died in Puerto Rico while his 25-year-old fiance died a couple days later at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Burn Center in Miami. She had burns on more than 80 percent of her body.

A defense psychiatrist testified that Justino Sanchez became emotionally unstable in 2006 when he could not work because his moving truck had become inoperable. The psychiatrist said Sanchez eventually became psychotic after he stopped receiving treatment for mental health problems, according to reports in local media.

Justino Sanchez's attorney, Luis Gonzalez, did not return calls for comment.

Jesus Sanchez and Donahue were to be married on July 17 in Seattle. To honor the couple, more than 100 friends and relatives celebrated the day at the planned reception at the U.S. city's famous Space Needle.

The best man and maid of honor even did their toasts, said Justin Stein, a close friend of Kate Donahue.

"It was very lighthearted," he said. "I think it gave all of us a chance to feel connected to Jesus and Kate again ... We treated it just like a wedding."

The verdict offers some kind of closure, but it is bittersweet, Stein said.

"My heart is still empty," he said. "There is nothing that they can do to that man to make her come back."