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Suspect in 87-Death N. Y. Fire Indicted on 178 Counts

Associated Press

The man accused of torching an illegal Bronx social club was indicted on 178 counts of murder, arson and other charges Friday in connection with the blaze that killed 87 people.

A state grand jury indicted Julio Gonzalez on one count of second-degree murder and one count of murder in the commission of a felony for each person killed early last Sunday inside the Happy Land social club.

Gonzalez was also indicted on two counts of arson and single counts of attempted murder and assault. He was not present when the indictment was returned.

Gonzalez, 36, who is due back in court on April 12, could be sentenced to 2,000 years in prison if convicted of all charges, Assistant Dist. Atty. Eric Warner said.

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“No case is open and shut,” Warner said. “We have a very good case. The evidence is strong.”

Gonzalez chose not to testify at the grand jury hearing, his attorney, Richard W. Berne, said.

While the grand jury considered the charges, authorities released records indicating that one of the club’s landlords had been contacted by a fire department lieutenant eight months before the blaze and told that a vacate order was in effect against the building.

Morris Jaffe, a partner in Little Peach Realty, responded that the problem “would be taken care of,” according to a July 28, 1989, fire department document.

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After announcement of the indictment, Gonzalez, a Cuban immigrant, was returned to Bellevue Hospital.

Berne said he hoped to arrange a psychiatric examination for Gonzalez soon.

Gonzalez, apparently enraged by an ex-girlfriend’s rejection, allegedly spilled gasoline in the entrance to the Happy Land social club and set it ablaze, authorities said. Eighty-seven persons died inside the cramped club, which catered largely to immigrants from Honduras.


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