Gina Virgilio, her hands shackled behind her, could barely reach the microphone in the Anchorage jail courtroom Monday to tell the judge yes, she needed a lawyer to defend against charges of murder and arson.
Virgilio, a slight 25-year-old, is accused of killing her fiance early Friday by pouring gasoline around him as he slept in their East Anchorage apartment, then setting it ablaze.
Michael Gonzalez, who turned 24 the day before he died, was a line cook at Moose's Tooth Pub and Pizzeria. Relatives said he loved Virgilio and her little boy. Virgilio was a child care worker in Muldoon, her mother said. She told the judge she only made $5,000 in the last year. He appointed a public defender.
In court, Virgilio's mother, Michelle, teared up as she watched her daughter from the other side of the glass wall separating the accused from the gallery crowd. A friend comforted her. Behind her, Gonzalez's father, Agustin, stared hard at Virgilio. Gonzalez's mother, Rosa Flecha, came from Milwaukee. The hearing lasted only a few minutes. His brother, Angel, flew up from San Diego, where he is stationed in the Navy.
District Judge James Hanley set Virgilio's bail at $1 million, plus a court-approved custodian, and forbid her from possessing matches or a lighter. At the request of the prosecutor, the judge also forbid her from having contact with any witnesses, including her mother, but said that could be revisited later.
Virgilio struggled with depression and got worse since moving in with Gonzalez earlier this year, Michelle Virgilio said outside the courtroom.
"You knew that something wasn't right in that house," the mother said. "The way she was. It wasn't even Gina anymore."
Her daughter had been addicted to crystal methamphetamine and heroin but had been clean since January, when state child protection workers stepped in and her daughter had to submit urine for regular drug tests, Michelle Virgilio said.
In the couple's apartment on McCarrey Street, Virgilio would keep the blinds closed.
"She didn't want to see the outside world at all," her mother said.
The state Office of Children's Services was monitoring the family but didn't take custody of Virgilio's son, who is 3, until a couple of weeks ago, Michelle Virgilio said. She said she reported to OCS that Gonzalez had punched holes in the walls of the apartment and the child was placed with her and her husband. An OCS spokeswoman said the agency couldn't discuss the case because of confidentiality laws.
Gonzalez was frustrated that Virgilio wasn't getting the help she needed, his stepmother, Angela Ramirez, said after the court hearing.
"The relationship was starting to fall apart," Ramirez said.
She said any suggestion that Virgilio was a victim and that her only recourse was killing Gonzalez "was beyond ridiculous."
OCS had directed Virgilio to get counseling, and she dropped off the necessary paperwork Wednesday, her mother said.
On her Facebook page, Virgilio listed favorite quotations: "LIVE EVERYDAY LIKE IT'S YOUR LAST." "DON'T WORRY....BE HAPPY!!!!" "HOLD TIGHT TO THE ONES YOU LOVE...DON'T EVER LET THEM SLIP AWAY."
She also said that she loved her father. He is in a nursing home and she made it a point to visit recently, as if she was saying goodbye, her mother said.
A MOOSE'S TOOTH FAMILY
On Thursday, Gonzalez celebrated his birthday with a barbecue at the apartment with friends, his family said. At least one Moose's Tooth coworker came.
Gonzalez had worked at the Midtown restaurant about two years, making pizzas and salads among other duties, said general manager Dan Fiacco, who described him as fun-loving and "an amazing employee."
"I don't think there was ever a time I didn't see a smile on his face," Fiacco said.
At the restaurant, where employees tend to treat each other like family, he had a big group of friends, Fiacco said. Grief counselors came to Moose's Tooth Monday to help employees work through what happened. Any who need time off will get it, Fiacco said. The situation is draining. He crashed at home on Monday after a few hours at the restaurant.
What happened to Gonzalez "is unfathomable," Fiacco said. He is planning to have a private memorial service at Moose's Tooth for friends, coworkers and family.
THE COMFORT OF LION KING
Virgilio's car was broken down and soon after midnight on Friday, she called her mother and asked for a ride to the store. She said her stomach was hurting. Her mother said it was too late at night.
Then a couple of hours later, after 2 a.m., her daughter called again. She had walked to the Carrs Quality Center on Boniface and needed a ride. Her mother picked her up.
By then, the apartment was burning, police say.
According to the police complaint against Virgilio, Michelle Virgilio told detectives her daughter initially told her that Gonzalez was verbally abusive, had spit gasoline at her, was using an aerosol spray as a flame thrower, and that there was a fire at the apartment. Then they went to Michelle Virgilio's home for the night. But Michelle Virgilio said police got part of the story wrong. She said she had no idea there had been a fire until around 5:30 a.m. Friday, when police called her and asked if she knew where her daughter was. If she thought the apartment was on fire, she would have called for help, she said.
Lt. Dave Parker, a police spokesman, said the chronology will be sorted out when recorded interviews are transcribed.
When they got to her apartment, Michelle Virgilio said she gave her daughter some milk and cookies and played "The Lion King." Her grandson had been watching it earlier. She thought it would be soothing.
After the early morning call from police, the mother and daughter went to the burned apartment. Virgilio was questioned all day and into the evening Friday by police, who brought her back to her mother's around 7:30 p.m. It was then that her daughter told her she had poured gasoline on the floor as her fiance slept on the couch and lit it, Michelle Virgilio said. But she didn't say she doused him directly, her mother said.
She feared her daughter would kill herself so she took her to Providence Alaska Medical Center. Late that night, Michelle Virgilio told detectives about her daughter's admission.
"I couldn't hold it in. It was so bad. Just knowing, oh my god, my baby did something like this," Michelle Virgilio said.
Gonzalez's family is struggling to understand. He was trying to save money for the wedding she wanted, relatives said. He had never been married and had no children of his own.
"He was in love with her," Angela Ramirez said. "That was all he wanted, to make her happy."
"And to make it work," Gonzalez's brother, Angel, said.
Reach Lisa Demer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4390.
By LISA DEMER
Anchorage Daily News