Woman admits setting man on fire

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ST. CROIX - The woman police said caused a man's death when she set him on fire at Paradise Mills housing community pleaded guilty to manslaughter on Friday.

Donna Webbe, 33, appeared before newly appointed V.I. Superior Court Judge Douglas Brady and pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment and voluntary manslaughter - a lesser included crime of first-degree murder - for killing her boyfriend, 25-year-old James Gaston, during an argument.

Officers arrived on the scene at Paradise Mills housing community at 7:30 a.m. Sept. 30, 2011, and found Gaston lying on the ground covered in burns and his apartment still on fire, according to reports prepared by V.I. Police Sgt. Deborah Jack.

Emergency medical technicians transferred Gaston to the hospital, where he told police that he and Webbe had been fighting earlier that morning when she threatened to light his clothes on fire, according to Jack. Webbe gathered Gaston's clothes into a pile, grabbed a can of gasoline and began dousing the pile of clothes with it, Jack said. When Gaston tried to stop her, gasoline spilled on him, according to Jack.

Webbe then took a lighter and lit Gaston and the pile of clothes on fire, Gaston told police.

Witnesses told police they heard the two fighting earlier that morning. Others said they saw Gaston, covered in flames, run out of the apartment, and soon after, they saw Webbe walk out and leave the scene, according to police.

Webbe turned herself in to police just more than an hour after police found Gaston. She told police that she had doused Gaston's clothes in gasoline and set them and him on fire.

Gaston suffered severe burns to 56 percent of his body, police said.

Webbe was arrested and charged with arson and second-degree assault, but when Gaston died two weeks later, the case was upgraded and the murder charge was added.

She had pleaded not guilty to those charges and was scheduled for a jury trial later this year, but she accepted a plea deal offered by prosecutors.

Pursuant to the plea agreement, Webbe pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment, and prosecutors agreed to dismiss the murder charge and related counts, which would have given her a mandatory life sentence if she was convicted.

With the new charges, Webbe faces up to 10 years in prison on the manslaughter charge and a maximum of five years in prison on the reckless endangerment charges.

Webbe had been released on bail following the advice-of-rights hearing after her initial arrest, but she has been jailed since her rearrest on the murder charges, unable to post $150,000 bail.

Brady scheduled sentencing for 10 a.m. Feb. 27.

- Contact Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi.

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