Man found guilty of murder in Clear Creek County for dousing girlfriend with gasoline, lighting her on fire
A Clear Creek County jury found an Arvada man guilty of murder on Thursday for dousing his girlfriend with gasoline and lighting her on fire in front of her two sons at a remote campground in June 2016.
John Vasquez, 34, was found guilty after a four-week trial that featured witness testimony from the victim’s sons, ages 8 and 12, who tried to put out the flames but were unable to save their mother, Christina Aruchuleta-Blasier, who died a month later.
“We are happy to receive justice for Christina today,” District Attorney Bruce Brown said in a news release. “This case was an example of incredible teamwork of so many in the first-responder community and the tenacity of Christina’s family to see through so many court hearings and a lengthy trial. We are gratified for this result, but continue to mourn the loss of a beautiful woman.”
The jury deliberated for six hours, delivering its verdict in court at around 2:30 p.m. on Thursday. Vasquez was convicted of first-degree murder and several other crimes including felony child abuse. He faces a mandatory life sentence for the murder charge.
Aruchuleta-Blasier suffered third- and fourth-degree burns over 60 percent of her body, some penetrating to the bone, after the June 17, 2016 incident. She was flown via Flight For Life helicopter to a University of Colorado Hospital burn unit but succumbed to her injuries 33 days later on July 20, 2016. She was never able to tell investigators what happened.
“She was able to speak on the 911 call and say, ‘help me,’ essentially,” Brown said, reached by phone Friday. “Then they had to intubate her, and her ability to communicate was compromised to the point where we couldn’t ever interview her.”
Aruchuleta-Blasier’s sons, however, had seen what happened. They testified that Vasquez sent them away to get help after their vehicle’s battery died at the remote campsite, Brown said.
The younger boy got nervous being away from his mother and went back for her. At the campsite, he testified that he saw Vasquez douse his mother with gasoline and light her on fire. He screamed, prompting his brother to run back to the campsite as well, Brown said.
The younger boy, who was 6 years old at the time, suffered second-degree burns as he tried to put out the flames. He has since recovered.
“The boys remember (Vasquez) standing there laughing, and during the 911 call he feigned concern and had a smirk on his face,” Brown said. “It’s about as bad as it gets.”
Vasquez did not testify. He gave statements to investigators claiming that the fire was accidental and happened while Aruchuleta-Blasier was making a fire in a pit behind him.
“He said it was something like a flash fire or a spill, but the evidence showed that the area of origin was where a gas can was sitting 30 feet away from the fire pit,” Brown said.
During trial, prosecutors sought to undermine the “accident” defense by pointing to a case from eight months earlier, when Vasquez had broken Aruchuleta-Blasier’s television. He initially claimed it was an accident but later, during a tape-recorded conversation, confessed that he did it on purpose.
“You had crimes separated by eight months with the same people, and in both cases the defendant initially claimed that it was an accident,” Brown said. “I think it was helpful for the jury to see that the prior claim that it was an accident wasn’t true.”
Deputy District Attorney Bryan Garrett joined Brown in trying the case. Agencies that investigated and prosecuted the case included the Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Office, Colorado Bureau of Investigation and FBI.
“The office of the District Attorney wants to acknowledge the caregivers that tried valiantly to save Christina in the hours and days after she was injured and acknowledge that the success of the prosecution was a team effort dependent on the extraordinary efforts of so many caring professionals,” the news release said.
Vasquez’s sentencing is scheduled for June 19 at 9 a.m. in Clear Creek County District Court before Fifth Judicial District Chief Judge Mark Thompson. Vasquez is currently being held in the Clear Creek County Jail.
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