Judge hears Bloomington arson case to determine sentence

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

Sept. 19, 2013 at 4:19 a.m.
Updated Sept. 20, 2013 at 4:20 a.m.

The sight of a 600-square-foot, wood-framed home in Bloomington was so offensive to a love-scorned man he took a lighter to it, said W. Kyle Young, the former Victoria County fire marshal.

Young was testifying in the sentencing portion of Aaron Flores Darnell's case on the first day of the arson hearing Thursday afternoon.

Darnell, 27, is charged with arson with intent to damage a habitation, a first-degree felony. He pleaded guilty Aug. 30.

The state alleges he burned an unoccupied home in the 500 block of Rio Grande Street during the early morning hours of March 20, 2007.

Young oriented the court to photographs taken at the scene eight days after firefighters extinguished the blaze.

Darnell also confessed to the crime after he arrested later on suspicion of public intoxication, he said.

"There was evidently a love triangle going on (with the homeowners, a woman and her husband)," Young said, summarizing a May 2007 recorded interview at the sheriff's office. "He (Darnell) couldn't stand the house being there with all the memories (after the couple moved to another state.)"

Young deduced that the fire originated in the couple's bedroom because it sustained the most damage. He ruled out natural causes, determined the electricity was turned off at the time and found no accelerant.

Young's testimony was corroborated by the suspect's brother, Elvis Darnell, who described for the court how Darnell woke him up by calling him repeatedly the night of the fire.

"He said, 'Look over across the field. You'll see a sunset," Elvis said. "He said she (the homeowner) left him for (her husband) and that now they don't have a place to stay when they come back. ... If he couldn't have her, nobody else was going to have her."

The case was delayed for years because doctors determined Darnell was not competent.

A Georgetown psychiatrist, Dr. Joel Kutnick, said on the stand Darnell likely feigned mental retardation though.

One must have an IQ of 70 or below and not know how to function in society to be considered mentally retarded, he explained.

"That struck me as paradoxical that he couldn't recognize what a knee was but he came up with a quick alibi," when questioned by deputies while riding his bicycle near the scene, Kutnick said.

Darnell has a history of drug and alcohol abuse as well as behavioral issues, including destroying objects in anger and killing animals, he said.

Kutnick diagnosed him with antisocial personality disorder.

Darnell's attorney Joyce M. Leita, meanwhile, inquired as to whether Darnell was drunk while confessing. He was not given a breathalyzer, Young said.

Leita also pointed out that he did not intend to harm anyone and the photos, although dramatic, show the home without any walls. The walls were pulled off by firefighters because of a safety issue.

Assistant District Attorney Johna Stallings is prosecuting the case.

The trial will resume at 9 a.m. Friday before Judge Kemper Stephen Williams. The state is expected to call more witnesses.



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