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Two life terms for two lives lost in ’08 fire

Chuminski sentenced in deaths of girls, 3 and 14

By Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / February 19, 2010

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The woman who set the roaring blaze that killed two young sisters as they huddled together in their South Boston home two years ago was sentenced yesterday in Suffolk Superior Court to two consecutive life terms in prison, the last chapter in a horrific fire and murder trial.

Nicole Chuminski, 27, will have to complete the mandatory 15-year sentence for each of two convictions of second-degree murder, meaning she will serve at least 30 years in prison before she is eligible for parole. She would begin serving the sentence on the second conviction if and when she is granted parole on the first.

Prosecutors and the girls’ family said justice was served for the killing of 14-year-old Acia Johnson and 3-year-old Sophia, victims of a woman who took her rage out on the girls’ mother, Anna Reisopoulos, her lover of a few months, by setting fire to their home.

“Two years ago we lost two precious and innocent children who should not have died,’’ the girls’ family said in a statement that was read in the courtroom by Assistant District Attorney David Fredette. “Two lives taken away too soon for reasons we cannot comprehend.’’

Reisopoulos, who is in a county jail on unrelated charges, was given permission to attend the hearing and told the court that Acia was beautiful and authentic and that Sophia was a younger version of her. Reisopoulos, 35, asked for forgiveness for neglecting her children, and for exposing them to her violent relationship with Chuminski.

“I ask that I please be given this opportunity to express my deepest apologies to my kids so I can close this chapter and move on with the brightest memories that I instill in my heart,’’ she said.

Chuminski was convicted Tuesday of one count of arson, two counts of second-degree murder, or murder in the commission of a felony, and two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. It took a jury one day to deliberate after a dramatic two-week trial with testimony by firefighters who rushed to the scene and found the girls in a third-floor closet, by neighbors who tried to help Reisopoulos escape the fire, and by Reisopoulos.

Prosecutors said that Chuminski started the fire on the morning of April 6, 2008, after fighting with Reisopoulos the night before at a wedding reception in Weymouth.

The fire became a symbol of family neglect and domestic violence that culminated in the deaths of the two girls, but it also showed Acia’s enduring love for her sister, as she cradled the little girl in their dying moments. Their charred bodies were found still holding each other.

“It’s a haunting vision, but it’s also a beautiful vision, the way Acia was holding her,’’ Fredette said.

Superior Court Judge Frank Gaziano said he was considering the tragedy of the two young girls, but also the senseless reason for setting the fire in handing out the consecutive life sentences. Chuminski will also serve a concurrent sentence of eight to 10 years for the assault and battery with a dangerous weapon convictions, stemming from injuries to Reisopoulos and her son, Raymond Jr., Acia’s twin, who suffered smoke inhalation.

The charge of arson was dismissed, since it was incorporated in the count of murder in the course of committing a felony.

Outside the courtroom, Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said Chuminski received a just sentence.

“Nothing is going to bring back these beautiful, loving girls,’’ he said. “They should not have suffered such a horrific death. And today, justice was served.’’

Chuminski’s sisters, Lateisha Chuminski and Shirley Molgard, who regularly attended the trial, said yesterday that they were saddened by the verdict and that they still support her.

“She is my life,’’ Lateisha Chuminski said.

Chuminski’s lawyer, William M. White Jr., said that he was disappointed by the verdict and that his client has maintained her innocence, but that she had prepared herself for the sentencing.

In statements to the court, the girls’ family members said that the verdict and sentence were appropriate but that nothing will bring back two girls who should not have fallen victim to the quarrels of two adult women.

“Acia and Sophia, may they rest in peace knowing you were held accountable for your actions,’’ Irene Gregory, the girls’ grandmother, told Chuminski in a prepared statement. “Your next judgment day is between God and you, and may he have mercy on your soul, although you had no mercy for Acia and Sophia.’’

Milton Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@globe.com.