A Lancaster city man accused of setting a December 2010 fire that killed his wife has been ordered to stand trial on homicide, arson and related charges after a preliminary hearing Friday.
However, supporters of Carlos Montalvo-Rivera — including his two daughters and the niece of Montalvo-Rivera's slain wife, Olga Sanchez — said afterward that they support him.
"We're still standing by him," Kassandra Montalvo, 17, said of her father. Kiana Montalvo, 19, said her father calls the family daily from prison.
The sisters, along with their brother, Carlos Xavier Montalvo, 23, were in the 14 N. Plum St. home at the time of the fire early on Dec. 10, 2010.
The children weren't in the courtroom of Lancaster District Judge Andrew LeFever because they might be called as trial witnesses, but they were told what played out in the roughly two-hour hearing.
Few new details emerged that investigators hadn't already disclosed when they announced in October they made an arrest in what had been considered one of the county's most notorious cold cases.
But city Detective Sgt. Nathan Nickel, who was the only witness at Friday’s hearing, testified that Sanchez had been doused with gasoline, as had parts of the house.
Philadelphia-based defense attorney Jack McMahon said it was interesting that Nickel didn't write in charging documents that someone poured gasoline on Sanchez. Nickel said he simply hadn't put it in.
The prosecution presented evidence suggesting Montalvo-Rivera, 52, and Sanchez were having marital troubles, which Nickel said Montalvo-Rivera at first denied.
Were hands tied?
Nickel also testified that, during the fire, a neighbor came across Montalvo-Rivera trying to reach from the ground to a back second-floor window with unbound hands. The neighbor tried unsuccessfully to boost him to the window, then left Montalvo-Rivera in the back and went to the front to help there.
At least two other witnesses saw Montalvo-Rivera with his hands bound by what they described as computer cable and a cloth cord or shoestring. Nickel called the cord a drawstring and noted that the sweatpants Montalvo-Rivera had been wearing were missing a drawstring.
Prosecutors debated for years whether to arrest Carlos Montalvo-Rivera for the arson that ki…
Assistant District Attorney Travis Anderson questioned Nickel about Montalvo-Rivera's hands.
Nickel testified that Montalvo-Rivera told him that sometime after going to bed about 10:40 p.m. on Dec. 9, 2010, he awoke to sounds of his wife arguing with a man who had a scorpion tattoo on his neck. Then, someone hit him in the head, Montalvo-Rivera said, and when he regained consciousness, his hands were tied behind his back.
Anderson, the prosecutor, said the fire was set inside the house and Montalvo-Rivera had been in the house. He said Montalvo-Rivera was seen trying to get to the second floor from outside because he was trying to open the window he claimed to have climbed out of, so it would fit his story.
Nickel said that despite witnesses — including Montalvo-Rivera’s daughter Kassandra — seeing him with bound hands, Montalvo-Rivera denied during an interview several days after the fire that he was tied up when he was outside the house.
Montalvo-Rivera said he had freed himself and that the witnesses were lying. Nickel said Montalvo-Rivera later changed his account.
Another inconsistency, Nickel said was that the window Montalvo-Rivera claimed to have climbed out of was closed and was of the type that stayed up unless closed manually. Photographs by a firefighter showed the window closed, he testified.
McMahon, in arguing there wasn't enough evidence to hold the case for court and in comments afterward, said all the prosecution had was theory, suspicion and conjecture.
"You don't make this humongous leap from inconsistency to, ‘He set this fire,’" McMahon argued.
He suggested another theory could be just as plausible: Someone killed Sanchez in retaliation for her brother being a Drug Enforcement Agency informant.
About a dozen of Montalvo-Rivera's supporters were in the courtroom, including his current wife, Rosanna Lorenzo de Montalvo, and Johanna Reynoso, 26, who is also Sanchez' niece.
Asked after the hearing what they believe happened, Reynoso said some type of foul play.
"There are other theories that could also be possible," she said.
Montalvo-Rivera is being held at Lancaster County Prison without bail.
Nickel said Montalvo-Rivera later changed his account