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Three suspects to stand trial in one of the deadliest arson fires in L.A. history

Three suspects to stand trial in one of the deadliest arson fires in L.A. history
The scene of the 1993 Westlake apartment fire that left 10 people dead. Gang members Ramiro Valerio, Joseph Monge and Johanna Lopez were ordered to go to trial, according to news reports. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Three people suspected of igniting one of the city’s worst apartment fires — killing 10 people, seven of them children — must stand trial.

A judge on Friday ordered gang members Ramiro Valerio, Joseph Monge and Johanna Lopez to go to trial, the Associated Press reported. They have pleaded not guilty to murder charges that could carry the death penalty.

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Authorities said the men were responsible for a 1993 blaze in Westlake, setting the fire as payback after a vigilant apartment manager took steps to discourage drug dealing inside the building.

Lopez, who was paying the notorious 18th Street Gang for the right to distribute crack cocaine in the neighborhood, enlisted the other two in a plot to set fire to the building, officials said.

Flames tore through the building, which was largely populated by immigrants from Mexico and Central America, spreading quickly in part due to faulty smoke detectors.

Residents formed human chains to help older neighbors escape. Mothers threw babies out of windows, hoping someone would catch them.

Despite residents' efforts, columns of thick smoke claimed a number of lives.

More than 100 residents were displaced, and more than 40 were injured. Three women were killed, including two who were pregnant. The seven children who died ranged in age from 15 months to 11 years.

Valerio and Monge were arrested earlier this year by Los Angeles police. Lopez has been in custody on charges related to the fire since 2011, according to court records.

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