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The Boston Globe

Metro

Murder conviction in 2008 South Boston arson upheld

NICOLE CHUMINSKI

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff/File

NICOLE CHUMINSKI

The South Boston woman convicted of murdering two sisters by setting their home on fire in South Boston in 2008 was given a fair trial and must remain behind bars, where she is serving two life sentences, the Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled Friday.

Nicole Chuminski was convicted of setting the April 6, 2008, fire that killed 14-year-old Acia Johnson and her 2-year-old sister, Sophia. In its ruling Friday, the court wrote that Boston firefighters “found Acia and Sophia’s bodies huddled together in a closet on the third floor.

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“The cause of the death was thermal injuries and smoke inhalation,” the court said.

In a statement, Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley praised the court’s decision.

“This was a case of deadly domestic violence,” Conley said. “This defendant intentionally set the fire that killed these two children, the innocent victims of a fight they had no part in.”

In its ruling, the court said Chuminski, now 31, was angry at the mother of the two children, Anna Reisopoulos, with whom she had a tumultuous relationship. The two feuded at a wedding reception for a Chuminski relative on April 5, 2008, in Weymouth, where Reisopoulos was accused of stealing a wallet and was ordered to leave the reception.

Several hours later, according to the court, Chuminski threw a glass bottle into the family home at West Sixth Street where Reisopoulos was sleeping on the second floor while her son Raymond, who was also Acia’s twin, slept on the first floor. The two girls were sleeping on the third floor, the court noted.

Reisopoulos and Raymond were awakened by the sound of an explosion and made it outside, but the girls did not. “Two neighbors attempted unsuccessfully to rescue the girls, while others, including Raymond, yelled at them to jump,’ the court wrote. “Firefighters responded quickly, but despite their efforts to extinguish the fire, the first floor remained impassable.”

During her trial in Suffolk Superior Court, Chuminski’s defense argued that forensic evidence showed the accelerant used was acetone. But the three-judge panel of the Appeals Court said that incriminating statements Chuminski made after the fire — she told people the children were not supposed to be in the house at the time of the fire — along with the hostility between the women supported her guilt.

“The jury could rationally have reached their verdicts upon the basis of the evidence presented by the Commonwealth,” the court concluded. “The evidence demonstrating the defendant’s guilt was strong.”

The Globe, which chronicled the short life of Acia in 2008, reported then that Acia Johnson was devoted to her younger sister and was forced by her parents’ inability to stay out of prison and off drugs to assume the role of mother to Sophia.

The Globe also reported that the Department of Social Services, now known as the Department of Children and Families, failed to properly protect the three children from the environment they were being raised in.

Suffolk Superior Court Judge Frank Gaziano sentenced Chuminski to two consecutive life terms for the second-degree murder convictions, meaning Chuminski must first be paroled from the first sentence before she can start serving the second. She will be parole eligible after serving 15 years behind bars.

John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com.

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