Doused in rubbing alcohol and set on fire. That's what Cook County prosecutors say happened to Christine Espinosa in her Elgin home. And they claim her husband, Jose Marquez, did it.
"Oct. 17, 2009. That day will forever be burned into the memory of Christine Espinosa, because that's the day she was burned," said Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Shilpa Patel during Thursday's opening statements in Marquez's trial on charges of heinous battery and aggravated domestic battery in Rolling Meadows' Third Municipal District.
That night, an argument between the couple escalated from hair pulling and choking and concluded with the 34-year-old woman suffering first, second and some third degree burns over her arms, hands, chest and abdomen, Patel said.
Espinosa wasn't the only one scarred that night, Patel said. The couple's pre-teen daughter witnessed her father choking her mother and tried to intervene, Patel said. Sent to her room, the girl re-emerged several minutes later to "see her mother running to the bathroom ablaze," Patel said. Defense attorney David Corbett agreed something ugly and horrific happened that night, but disputed the state's contention that his client is to blame. In his opening remarks, he referred to Espinosa's statements to police in which she claimed multiple times that either she set herself on fire or that she wasn't sure who ignited the lighter that caused her burns.
"That's evidence," said Corbett, who repeatedly referenced inconsistencies in Espinosa's statements.
No one disputed her injuries. Burned over 27 percent of her body, Espinosa spent 21/2 weeks in the burn unit at Maywood's Loyola Medical Center. At the end of her often tearful testimony, Espinosa revealed those angry, red burns and puckered skin to the jury. Asked by Patel how long she would carry those scars, she replied, "all my life."
Espinosa testified that she and her daughter returned to their home in the 1200 block of Blackhawk Drive about 10:30 p.m. to find Marquez, 34, in the computer room. An argument ensued over a phone call Marquez wanted Espinosa to make, which led to Marquez throwing a computer monitor, Espinosa said through an interpreter. She then described how Marquez choked her, pulled her hair, insulted her and finally poured rubbing alcohol on her and ignited her using a yellow lighter.
Afterward, she ran to the bathroom and got into the shower, where she said she watched the flesh peel off her arms.
Relatives who lived with the couple called police, but Marquez insisted on driving Espinosa to the hospital, Espinosa said.
Elgin police stopped the car about a mile from the hospital and took Marquez into custody.
Espinosa admitted lying to police initially so Marquez "wouldn't get more upset."
"If he had done this, what would he do later on?" she said.
She later admitted to lead detective Brian Gorcowski the choking and hair pulling but not the fire, saying she feared for her daughter's safety. Asked by Corbett why he persisted in questioning Espinosa - always with assistance from a police interpreter - after she insisted she burned herself, Gorcowski said he simply didn't believe she set herself on fire.
Judge James Etchingham allowed testimony from Marquez's sister, Maria Guadalupe Marquez, who described a similar incident from 1995. Maria Marquez claimed Jose poured boiling water on her at their Harvard home, then insisted on taking her to the hospital. She said Marquez told authorities Maria had injured herself but McHenry County prosecutors brought charges against him anyway. Those charges were later dismissed.
If convicted of the most serious charge of heinous battery, Marquez could face up to 30 years in prison. Testimony resumes Friday in Rolling Meadows.