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California man sentenced after his 2 children died in fire

Posted at 4:21 PM, Jan 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-08 19:22:40-05

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A Southern California man whose two children died in a fire that investigators said likely erupted when he passed out drunk and dropped a cigarette was sentenced Wednesday to nearly 13 years in prison.

During the three-hour hearing, defendant Henry Lopez called the prosecutor a liar and received a tongue-lashing from his ex-wife and even from a juror, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

Lopez, 39, of Rancho Bernardo was convicted last fall of involuntary manslaughter, child endangerment and recklessly causing a fire in an inhabited home.

His daughter, 7-year-old Isabella, and 10-year-old son, Cristos, died in the 2017 predawn fire that spread from their father's bedroom. Isabella died of smoke inhalation and was found curled up on the bottom bunk bed in her brother's room, the newspaper reported.

Cristos was found in his father's bedroom. He died from burns.

The defense argued that Henry Lopez initially ran downstairs during the blaze but then ran back upstairs to try to rescue his children. He was found unconscious at the head of the stairs with burns over 13 percent of his body. His blood-alcohol level was later tested at .22 percent — nearly three times the legal limit for drivers.

Speaking at the sentencing hearing, Lopez said he tried to save the children — an assertion that prompted a juror to stand up, swear and shout: “It happened on your watch!" the Union-Tribune reported.

Investigators concluded that the fire likely was caused by a lit cigarette dropped on Lopez's bed, although during trial the defense contended that the probable cause was a cellphone charger Lopez had under a pillow. No sign of either a charger or a cigarette was found in the charred ruins.

Earlier in the hearing, Lopez and his former wife, Nikia Lopez, shouted at each other. She accused him of physical abuse, heavy drinking and adultery and said: “I’ll never forgive you for what you did to your children.”

Superior Court Judge Steven Stone intervened and later gave Lopez the maximum sentence, saying he had “completely and utterly failed to accept responsibility for his actions.”