A U.S. District judge on Friday handed down a stiff sentences to a pair of convicted arsonists whose Elston Avenue apartment blaze injured several residents, including two small girls.
Calling her crimes shocking and cowardly, Judge Rebecca Pallmayer sentenced Margarita Gonzalez to 25 years in prison. Her accomplice, Rafael Polanco, received 17.5 years. Both had pleaded guilty to setting the November 2008 fire at 5686 N. Elston Avenue.
Prosecutors had asked for 50-year sentences for both of them.
The mother of the two injured girls stormed out of the federal building in tears after the sentences were announced.
"She should have got life," said Janelle Fermatt.
Fermatt's daughters, 8-year-old Ariel Reyes and 5-year-old Alondra Reyes read an impassioned letter at a sentencing hearing Thursday asking Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer to "make them go to jail until they have no more birthdays," the Sun-Times reported.
The Reyes girls suffered such drastic injuries that they cannot go into sunlight and are forced to wear special head-to-toe protective garments 23-hours-a-day. They were 6 and 3 years old at the time of the fire and were put on life support following the blaze.
Their note and the accompanying self-portraits they submitted evoked tears from the judge and the court.
Gonzales, 27, and Polanco, set the fire as part of a revenge plot against a woman who slept with Polanco and someone whom Gonzales was interested. The pair poured gasoline on an outside door of the apartment building and lit it.
After the arson, Gonzales instructed her family and friends to create a false alibi.
Gonzales also had a note read into the record. Her cousin, Heriberto Viramontes – who is currently awaiting trial for attacking two girls with a bat in Bucktown – wrote a "character letter" for Gonzales.