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LOS ANGELES (AP) — A woman pleaded guilty Tuesday to voluntary manslaughter in a 1993 arson fire at a Los Angeles apartment building that killed 10 people, including seven children.
Johanna Lopez, 54, entered the plea to two felony counts and could face 22 years in state prison when she is sentenced in June.
Prosecutors said Lopez was paying a gang for the right to distribute crack cocaine in the neighborhood and enlisted two members in a plot to set fire to the three-story complex in the Westlake area because they were upset that the manager was trying to stop drug deals.
“The apartment manager was moving furniture on May 3, 1993, when a mattress that was in a hallway was set on fire and smoke from the flames spread throughout the complex," according to a statement from the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.
The fire spread quickly because some fire doors had been propped open in the building, which had been cited repeatedly for safety hazards, authorities said.
Smoke inhalation killed three women — two of whom were pregnant — and seven children ranging from 15 months to 11 years old. More than 40 other people were injured.
Investigators had trouble obtaining enough evidence to file criminal charges, in part because witnesses were too afraid of the gang. But over the years, some became more willing to testify, authorities said.
Lopez was arrested in 2011 and has remained in custody while murder charges were filed against two men in 2017.
Joseph Monge, 44, pleaded guilty on Feb. 7 to one count of voluntary manslaughter and could face 11 years in prison when he is sentenced in June.
Ramiro Valerio, 46, is awaiting trial on charges of murder with special circumstances of multiple murders and murder in the commission of an arson. The charges include the deaths of the two unborn children. If convicted, Valerio could face life in prison without possibility of parole.
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