CROWN POINT — A Lake Criminal Court jury deliberated about 25 minutes Friday before convicting a Gary man of murdering his grandmother in 2018 and setting her home on fire.
Kyle A. Gray, 28, claimed the fire that ultimately killed 79-year-old Barbara Booth Walker was an accident.
The jury rejected that claim and found Gray guilty of murder, murder in perpetration of arson, arson causing serious bodily injury and arson.
Lake County Prosecutor Daniel Burke said in his closing arguments Gray admitted to police June 28, 2018, that he struck the match that lit the fire that morning at the home he shared with Booth Walker in the 3400 block of Johnson Street in Gary.
"Kyle never takes responsibility for the trail of gasoline to the back bedroom," he said.
Burke said evidence presented during Gray's trial before Judge Diane Boswell showed Gray smothered his grandmother; poured gasoline from her back bedroom, down a hall, through the living room to the front door; and started the fire.
He fled, but then faced a choice when he returned to find the home damaged by the fire but still standing, said Burke, who tried the case with Deputy Prosecutor Maureen Koonce.
Instead of continuing to run, Gray called 911 and attempted to cover up what he'd done, Burke said.
Gray told police he and his grandmother were arguing and she began hitting him with a cane.
Defense attorney Scott King read Gary's statement to police, in which Gray wrote he told his grandmother to leave him alone but she continued to come at him.
Gray claimed he went to a vehicle to grab a gas can, threatened to burn down the house and started striking matches while holding the gas can near the front door.
King took issue with Burke's suggestion that it wasn't reasonable to believe Gray was striking matches while simultaneously holding a gas can.
"It's stupid beyond belief, but, yes, it does happen," King said.
According to Gray's story, one of the matches started a fire, he spilled gas and then tossed the gas can, and he fled when the flames became "too big."
King said it was true that Gray initially lied to police, giving them different stories. However, King argued Gray never intended to start the fire or kill his grandmother.
Burke told the jury the state needed to prove that Gray intentionally or knowingly killed Booth Walker and started the fire.
Anyone who lights a match around gasoline knows death or injury is likely to result, the deputy prosecutor said.
Burke reminded the jury a forensic pathologist testified pressure marks on Booth Walker's nose and face showed she was smothered and lost consciousness before her death.
She was still breathing shallowly when the fire broke out, and she ultimately died from smoke inhalation, said Dr. Zhuo Wang, of the Lake County coroner's office. Burns Booth Walker suffered over much of her body occurred after her death, he testified.
Burke said Wang testified it wasn't possible for Booth Walker to cause the pressure marks own face, if she were trying to shield herself from the smoke.
"To press down on the face of someone who loves you with the intent of ending their life — that's no accident," Burke said. "That's murder."