An Illinois appeals court has affirmed the murder conviction of a former Villa Park man found guilty of lighting his ex-girlfriend’s car on fire — a blaze that killed the woman when it spread to her house.
The 2nd Appellate District Court on Tuesday upheld the DuPage County court conviction of Todd Mandoline, who is serving a 39-year prison term for arson and for the first-degree murder of Paula Morgan, 24, who died in July 2012 at her residence in Lombard.
Following his conviction, Mandoline filed an appeal, arguing that police lacked probable cause to arrest him and that a police interrogation was not legally permissible, among other issues. However, the three-judge appellate panel that heard arguments rejected each of the appeal issues cited by Mandoline.
"The issues raised by Mr. Mandoline in his appeal were nothing more than a last, desperate attempt to avoid responsibility for the murder of Paula Morgan," DuPage State’s Attorney Robert Berlin said Wednesday.
Mandoline and Morgan had been involved in a relationship that had cooled, and the pair got into an argument at a party Morgan organized to celebrate her birthday, authorities said. Party guests interceded to quell the argument, and one eventually drove Mandoline back to Villa Park, where he lived with his parents.
Later that night, in early morning hours of July 22, 2012, Mandoline returned to the Morgan residence and started a fire in Morgan’s car, which was parked in the driveway, authorities said. The blaze spread to the house, and Morgan died. A friend spending the night was badly burned, but another friend and Morgan’s 6-year-old son escaped without injury.
Mandoline was questioned by police early on, after party guests reported the altercation the previous night. He was eventually charged with first-degree murder and aggravated arson, and was found guilty by a DuPage County jury in January 2015. Several months later, Judge John Kinsella sentenced him to consecutive terms of 27 years for murder and 12 years for the arson.
Mandoline, 28, is serving his sentence at Stateville prison in Joliet, and has a projected parole date of 2049, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections.
Clifford Ward is a freelance reporter.