LAWRENCE, Massachusetts–Charles Loayza, the man police initially suspected of igniting the inferno that killed a family of five, is expected to continue testifying this week in an arson murder case against his own mother, 62-year-old Kathleen Hilton. Loayza has already testified that he did not set the fire and denied making any such threats, contrary to the testimony of several Commonwealth witnesses.
Kathleen Hilton’s son, Charles Loayza, on the witness stand
Investigators initially suspected Loayza after his ex-girlfriend, Krystina Sutherland told police he had called earlier on February 24, 1999 and threatened to burn down her house because she would not let him see their children. He admitted making the call, but denied making such threats on the phone or earlier during the same day, when two other prosecution witnesses claimed he threatened to torch the building.
Anne Marie Zarba, Sutherland’s mother, said she had a hostile exchange with Loayza on the afternoon of the fire when he came to the house wanting to see his children. When he was told he could not see them, he threatened to set fire to the building, she said. Mellonie Burke, who lived across from the Zarbas, said she overheard the two.
Defense attorney Michael Natola focused on Loayza’s anger over not being able to see his children. Loayza agreed he was angry but denied making any threats, and denied that he ever beat or abused Sutherland. He did not offer any explanation as to why Sutherland would need a restraining order against him except to say that “they like most other couples had disagreements.” Loayza was arrested the morning after the fire and gave a statement to police; he initially denied that he called Sutherland two hours before the house burned. He conceded he did make the call after confronted with news of the fire. When Natola confronted him about the change, Loayza said he did not know at the time that there had been a fire.
Loayza said he was at work the night of the fire, arriving some time around 10:15 p.m. Natola’s cross sparked heated exchanges when he suggested that Loayza fled the State for 10 years fearing he would be blamed for the fire. Loazyza said he moved out of Massachusetts, violating the terms of his probation, because publicity surrounding the fire kept him from being able to rent an apartment in the Lynn area.
Natola also brought up Loayza’s contact with police on January 25, 2009. At that time, Loayza apparently told police about a telephone conversation he had with his mother in September 2008. While this discussion was not elicited by prosecutors, Natola delved into the matter, suggesting that Loayza contacted investigators in an attempt to “throw his mother under the bus.” Loayza reportedly told police that his mother was “sorry about the fire” and apologized to him during the conversation. Natola then played the recorded phone call for the jury to show his mother never made any such apology, nor did she make any admissions of guilt. He accused Loayza of shifting the blame on his mother to divert police scrutiny from himself. Loayza angrily denied that was his intent, saying he “loved his mother” and talked to police again because he heard that Natola was trying to blame him for the fire.
Loayza also contradicted Sutherland’s claim that he set fire to a Christmas ornament on her front door on December 23, 1998, two months before the High Street inferno. Sutherland testified that moments after she thought Loayza was at her door trying to get in; she heard frantic banging, this time her landlord warning her that the decoration was on fire.
Loayza was arrested following the High Rock Street for violating the restraining order. He served one year of a two-and-a-half year sentence and was placed on probation. He is currently being held on a warrant for violating probation dating back more than a decade and is expected to appear in another court Monday morning where he may be released at that time.