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Jury finds Victoria man guilty of trying to kill girlfriend, baby by setting their house on fire

By Gheni_Platenburg
June 24, 2010 at 1:24 a.m.


TIMELINE

April 17, 2009 - Vanessa Middaugh changed the locks to her house out of fear of Armando Tijerina.

April 23, 2009 - Middaugh loaned her house keys to Tijerina so he could look for a dead rat in her air conditioning vents.

May 2, 2009 - Tijerina caught on Lowe's video surveillance purchasing the same timer that would soon be found attached to the flammable device found in Middaugh's home.

May 9, 2009 - Middaugh discovers charcoals and bottles filled with flammable liquids, one of which has an electric timer and extension cord attached to it, in her spare bedroom.

May 11, 2009 - Tijerina was scheduled for a paternity test.

May 17, 2009 - Middaugh discovers additional flammable items in her spare bedroom.

May 26, 2009 - Tijerina is arrested and questioned by sheriff's office investigators at the Refugio County Sheriff's Office

Oct. 7, 2009 - Tijerina was in nearly fatal car crash, causing the trial that was scheduled to start on Oct. 14 to be delayed

June 24 - Jury finds Tijerina guilty of attempted capital murder, arson

A Victoria man who claimed he didn't want to lose either his wife or girlfriend was found guilty Thursday of trying to kill the girlfriend and their baby.

A jury deliberated two hours before finding Armando Tijerina, 45, guilty of attempted capital murder, arson and burglary.

Tijerina admitted the arson while testifying, claiming he did it not to avoid paying child support, but rather in the name of love for his now-former girlfriend Vanessa Middaugh.

"I wanted to start a fire and let the house burn. When she came back, she would see this and the first person she would have called would be me," said Tijerina, who is married and has five children with at least three women. "I wanted to stay married to my wife, but I wanted to stay with Vanessa."

He dated Middaugh for three to four years before she became pregnant with their son.

Soft-spoken Tijerina shared details with jurors of his premeditated plan, which he admitted began awhile before the actual event.

"It didn't work the first few times," said Tijerina, who worked as a hazardous materials supervisor at the Ineos plant. "I tried bulbs at work, but they kept breaking."

Tijerina put the final touches on his plan a few days before May 9.

Around 9:30 a.m. on May 9, Tijerina said, he used Middaugh's spare key to enter the house, then went to work in the spare bedroom spreading charcoal, bottles and other materials.

"I spread everything out wherever it could ignite," said Tijerina.

He said he preset the timer before he left his house that morning to go off at 11:30 a.m.

"That way I'd be home already. I'd be at the house and have an alibi," he said.

However, a witness testified Tijerina's dark-colored truck was seen at Midduagh's house as late as 1 p.m.

Tijerina said that after completing the setup, which took him 30 minutes, he went grocery shopping in Port Lavaca; picked up his family; visited his mother-in-law; had a family dinner at Casa Ole; and bought his wife some perfume from the mall.

Constable Richard Castillo, who worked as a fire investigator for several years, testified that the amount of flammable liquids in the room plus the design and structure of the trailer home would have resulted in more than a quarter of the house becoming engulfed in flames in less than two minutes.

Castillo said the device did ignite and catch on fire, but because of its design, it was not able to sustain itself.

"When it ignited, it used up the oxygen in the bottle. Had there been a little bit more air, it would have worked properly," said Castillo.

Tijerina contended he was not looking to commit murder.

"I never intended to hurt anybody," he said.

Tijerina said the relationship he had with the child was a good one.

"I babysat him while she went to get food. I fixed his bottles. I even mowed her grass and her Mom's grass. Anything she needed help with around the house, I did," said Tijerina. "We talked everyday."

In hindsight, Tijerina said he knew his actions were wrong.

"I shouldn't have done that," said Tijerina. "Nobody else did that. I did that. Vanessa didn't know anything about it."

District Attorney Steve Tyler Tyler tried to prove Tijerina attempted suicide on Oct. 7, seven days before the trial was first scheduled to begin.

But the defendant claimed he crashed his truck into a concrete pillar as he text messaged his ex-wife while driving.

After the verdict, Tyler said, several families have had their lives destroyed. "This is tragic all the way around."

Tijerina and his lawyer, Dexter Eaves, were unavailable for comment, while Middaugh refused to comment.

The punishment phase of the case will begin at 9 a.m. Friday in district Judge Stephen Williams' court.

Tyler said because Tijerina has no prior criminal record, he is eligible for probation.

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