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Former Speegleville Elementary nurse sentenced for setting fire to school

by Adam Shear, Brandon Hartman and Christine McCarthy

WACO - The former Midway Independent School District nurse who admittedly set the Speegleville Elementary School on fire last August, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and a fine of $10,000.

The jury finished deliberating Wednesday afternoon and handed the sentence down to 57-year-old Mary Lucille Gutierrez shortly before 2:30 p.m.

Before the four hours of deliberation, prosecutors presented a formula to the jury to determine a reasonable punishment for Gutierrez. They started with the number 99 - the maximum number of years Gutierrez could receive - and then subtracted 56, for the number of years Gutierrez led a life of good behavior, and then finally subtracted 18 for the years she worked at Speegleville, finally arriving at a 25-year recommended sentence.

However, defense attorney Rod Goble called the formula "ridiculous," and asked the jurors to give Gutierrez probation because she had never been in trouble before and, he said, she was "in a fog" when she made the awful decision last August.

"She literally snapped," Goble said, "and we felt like, given her background of never being in any kind of trouble, always being an exceptional person, we were hoping the jury would consider her for probation."

Goble said Gutierrez's family was hoping she would be out of jail in time for Thanksgiving, especially given her health problems after being in jail for almost a year.

"She's lost a lot of weight," Goble said. "She's real diabetic. She's had a lot of physical problems but she's hanging in there. She's got a good attitude. She knows she did wrong. She knows there's a price to pay for what she did."

Gutierrez had pled guilty on Monday to setting Speegleville Elementary School on fire last August.

On Tuesday she took the stand and told the court she set fire to the school because she felt she was being overworked and was having some problems with school administrators.

"It was a way to get out," said Gutierrez during her testimony. "I just had to get away from Mr. Eberlein."

Christopher Eberlein, the principal at Speegleville Elementary School, he also testified on Tuesday. Eberlein told the court prior to the school's 2011 summer vacation he had a conversation with Gutierrez about where she needed improvements for the 2011-12 school year.

During her testimony Gutierrez says the job review stressed her out because she had been working as a school nurse for 18 years and never had faced that type of scrutiny.

The defense called several character witnesses for Gutierrez ranging from former co-workers to family members who all claimed Gutierrez was a very caring person and her crime surprised them. Those witnesses also said Gutierrez would do well in probation and they would help her during that time.

One witness said during her testimony "That is not the Mary that I know," after they were asked about her character concerns related to the fire.

The prosecution called an independent insurance worker Tuesday who estimated the damages done by Gutierrez cost roughly $2.3 million. The school district was forced to pay a $10,000 deductible to cover their insurance policy. The policy covered repairs to the school including clean-up and reconstruction, the value of Midway's property that was ruined, and the personal property owned by the teachers which the fire destroyed.

Gutierrez stated that if she was put on probation she would do her best to get a job and help pay as much as she could for the damage she caused.

The final witness called was a psychologist who evaluated Gutierrez's psychological condition on June 22. The doctor said his test results showed Gutierrez to be a remorseful person who has an anxiety condition.

The doctor showed another test that suggested Gutierrez would be unlikely to commit another crime because of her personality.

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