A judge has found a nail salon owner guilty of arson and second-degree murder after two Kansas City firefighters were killed in a fire in 2015.
Thu Hong Nguyen was found guilty on six of the seven charges that she faced, including two counts of first-degree arson, two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of second-degree assault. She was found not guilty on one charge of causing a catastrophe.
Investigators believe Nguyen started the fire at the nail salon where she worked before it spread to the rest of the building.
Firefighters John Mesh and Larry Leggio were trying to get the fire under control when a brick wall collapsed, killing them both. Two other firefighters were also injured while battling the flames.
The courtroom was packed with supporters of the fallen victims’ families, as well as firefighters. In fact, throughout the trial, an overflow room had to be set up to accommodate the large crowds.
Many people were emotional as the verdict was read.
Nguyen was taken out of the courtoom in handcuffs following the verdict.
During the trial, her lawyers had argued on her behalf. At times, her attorney was near tears, telling the judge in the closing arguments that the evidence did not support a conviction in the case and arguing that the electrical facts do not support the origin of the fire. She made a point to say groups of people are highly motivated to have her client convicted.
An electrical engineer testified during the trial that he could not understand how the incident would happen if the fire started in the storeroom.
The state called the defendant a liar and accused her of setting a previous business on fire in July of 2013 and walking away with a $50,000 insurance settlement. The state also claims the defendant orchestrated the plan and that insurance money was a motivator in this case.
After Nguyen was arrested, according to testimony at her trial, she admitted to a fellow detainee that she allegedly said she didn’t expect things to go wrong this time and did not mean for anyone to die.
Jackson County Prosecutor Baker met with the family and supporters of the two fallen firefighters immediately after the verdict was issued Monday morning.
"Our community acknowledges, again, the incredible service of our firefighters, who every day take great risk to keep us safe. Unfortunately, the loss of these two firefighters and the injuries suffered by two other firefighters that night reminds us of how dangerous their job is. We cannot forget their massive contributions to our community," Baker said.
Baker recalled that she first met with the families of Leggio and Mesh nearly three years ago.
"It was great to see them today receive some relief from this judgment," she said.
Baker also acknowledged the work of the county prosecution team and the support of the federal ATF, whose staff were "invaluable" investigators of the arson and subsequent deaths of the two firefighters.
"ATF is extremely grateful to the Jackson County Prosecutors Office and their diligence in seeking justice in this tragic case," said George Lauder, ATF Special Agent in Charge in Kansas City. Our thoughts are with the Mesh and Leggio families," Baker said.
Nguyen's sentencing is scheduled for September 14.
Copyright 2018 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.