By VERENA DOBNIK | AP
NEW YORK -- The man suspected of dousing a 73-year-old woman with gasoline and then setting her ablaze in an elevator was charged Monday with murder and arson.
Jerome Isaac appeared in Brooklyn Criminal court with the left side of his face badly burned and peeling and his upper lip was swollen. He said nothing during the brief court appearance. He was held without bail, and his lawyer requested solitary confinement for the 47-year-old, as well as medical attention. His attorney did not speak outside court.
Surveillance video from inside an elevator shows that Isaac was dressed something like an exterminator, with a canister sprayer, white gloves and a dust mask, which was perched atop his head. The sprayer was full of gasoline, prosecutors said.
According to the criminal complaint, Isaac doused Delores Gillespie with gasoline as she stood in the elevator that had just opened to the 5th floor of her apartment building in Brooklyn. She crouched and cowered, grocery bags draped off her arms.
Isaac pulled out a barbecue-style lighter, authorities said, and used it to ignite a rag in a bottle. He waited a few seconds as Gillespie huddled on the floor. Then he backed out of the elevator and tossed the flaming bottle in, authorities said.
Gillespie died from burns to her body and smoke inhalation, according to the criminal complaint.
Isaac has no criminal record, but that does not mean he is not highly dangerous, Assistant District Attorney Kenneth Taub said.
"I know this is the defendant's first offense, but the depravity of this particular single act is beyond my description," he said.
His next court date is Friday.
After Isaac fled the Prospect Heights building, he went around the corner and set his brother's apartment door on fire, according to the complaint.
Visibly burned, police believe Isaac then hid on a nearby rooftop in the winter cold for hours before he surrendered to police, reeking of gasoline. According to police, he said he immolated Gillespie because she owed him $2,000 for some odd jobs he had done for her.
When Jaime Holguin, who lives on the same floor as Gillespie, saw surveillance pictures of the attacker he said, "Oh, my God!"
Holguin, the manager of news development for The Associated Press, said the man in the surveillance pictures looked like a man who had lived with Gillespie for about six months last year and appeared to have been helping her out. He was certain Isaac was the man who worked for Gillespie after seeing post-arrest pictures of the suspect.
Gillespie's arrangement with Isaac appeared to have ended by early 2011, but months later Holguin started seeing the man nearby on the street, looking "a lot more disheveled" and pushing a cart full of aluminum cans.
Browne said that after setting Gillespie ablaze, Isaac set another fire at his own apartment building nearby, then hid on a roof before turning himself in to police.
Residents were evacuated and kept away from the six-story building for hours Saturday night as police investigated. On Sunday, Holguin said, the fifth floor was a mess, with a melted elevator door and a layer of water on the floor.
Holguin said he and his girlfriend had taken the elevator on their way out of the building shortly before the attack. They didn't see anyone on the floor with them but did notice an odd smell, as if someone was painting, he said.
Holguin said police told them later that the assailant was already in the building and perhaps had hidden on another floor when they left their apartment.