Home owner testifies in Bloomington arson trial

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

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

Emotions ran high during the second day of an arson trial in Victoria.

Maria Luna, 54, of Bloomington, testified Friday that she and her husband dated Aaron Flores Darnell in 2007.

Darnell, 27, is charged with burning down her house in the 500 block of Rio Grande Street in Bloomington on March 20, 2007.

He pleaded guilty to the first-degree felony Aug. 30.

Judge Kemper Stephen Williams is now hearing testimony to determine his sentence.

Luna moved to Wisconsin with her husband shortly before the blaze. Her daughter, Minnie Reyes, cut off the electricity while the couple was out of town, she said.

"We (my husband and I) were going to try to make it work," Luna said. "That was the only reason I left him (Darnell) because he was young. ... He had a future ahead of him."

Darnell laid his head down when she took the stand and quietly cried.

Luna's testimony coincided with how investigators believe the incident unfolded.

The sight of Luna's home held many memories that were suddenly painful for Darnell, former Victoria County Fire Marshal W. Kyle Young told the court Thursday.

Ganelle Gonzales, meanwhile, spoke about Darnell's behavior while living in a group home run by her employer, American Rehabilitation Services.

Darnell was once declared incompetent to stand trial and sent to a mental health facility in 2008. A judge ruled him competent to stand trial on the arson charge in May.

Gonzales described Darnell as intelligent and sometimes helpful but manipulative. He once got a doctor to prescribe him hydrocodone, which he was not allowed to ingest because he had substance abuse problems. He sold the pills.

He also did not want to comply or interact with other mentally disabled patients in her care, she said.

"He would often say, 'I'm not like them,'" Gonzales said. "He felt very much like his rights were being violated."

Darnell's attorney, Joyce M. Leita, challenged Gonzales' assertion that Darnell was a liar, though, pointing to documents that showed he had back and wrist x-rays, which would explain the prescription for pain.

Richard Castillo, Justice of the Peace Precinct 1, who served as a city fire marshal at the time of the incident, and a Port Lavaca police officer also testified.

Assistant District Attorney Johna Stallings is prosecuting the case.

The trial will resume at 1:30 p.m. Monday.



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