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Man acquitted of trying to torch gas-soaked wife on Thanksgiving

Sean Philip Cotter


On Sept. 9, 2016, a York County jury acquitted James Mark Velez of all charges at the close of his trial.

He was acquitted of aggravated assault, attempted arson, simple assault and reckless endangerment, according to court records.

Velez maintains his wife lied to police to get him out of the house, according to Velez's defense attorney, Farley Holt.

"They were having marital problems at the time," he said.

The couple previously separated and had been reconciled for about a year when she called 911 and claimed Velez doused her in gasoline, according to Holt.

Holt said the couple verbally argued Thanksgiving 2015 after she used a knife to stab holes in Velez's box of wine. After that happened, Velez went into his room, locked the door and fell asleep while watching television, Holt said.

"He never even had a chance to drink his glass of wine," the attorney said.

When Velez awoke, he smelled gasoline and heard someone — police, he later learned — pounding on his door, according to Holt.

At trial, Velez testified his wife said to him, "I left the house last time. This time your the one who's going to leave," according to Holt.

After Velez was arrested, his wife obtained a protection from abuse order that forbade Velez from living in their home, Holt said.

REPORTED DEC. 2, 2015:

Police say a York Township man doused his wife and himself in gasoline and threatened to use the lit cigarette he was holding to light them both on fire after he got drunk and angry Thanksgiving afternoon.

James Mark Velez, 48, is charged with attempted aggravated assault, attempted arson, simple assault and recklessly endangering another person.

James Mark Velez

Velez's wife told police he had been drinking all day on Thanksgiving, and by around 2 p.m. he was beginning to become angrier and angrier, and he started being making fun of the way she looked, according to charging documents filed by York Area Regional Police. They argued, and he threw wine at her, she told police, so she dumped some of his wine down the drain.

When she did that, he became violent, putting his forearm to her throat, pushing her back up against the sink and holding a knife to her throat, documents state. He then backed off, telling her the knife was actually dull; but then he grabbed two large kitchen knives and pointed them to her chest, police say she told them.

He then backed off again, now turning his attention to the oven, documents state. He blew out the pilot light and kept the stove door open, taking out his lighter as if to light the gas when more built up, his wife told police.

She told him not to do this, and he left the house, going outside, documents state. He came back in with a can of gasoline, which he began to pour on her, she told police. He soaked her with it, covering her body, head and clothing, as he held both a lighter and lit cigarette, she told police.

She ran away from him to the garage, and he gave chase, eventually dragging her down and causing her to hit her head on the concrete floor, according to documents. He then poured more gas on her, she told police, as she screamed that it was burning her eyes and skin and that she needed an ambulance.

By this point, the garage floor had become slick from all the gasoline he'd poured, so Velez slipped, which gave his wife time to run away again, police allege. She went to the bathroom and, now screaming in pain, began trying to rinse the gas off in the shower.

She later told police he followed her in and began to make fun of her, and then, cigarette still it, poured gasoline on himself. He then grabbed her leg and tried to throw her down, but she fought him off, biting him and then getting away; she was ultimately able to call police, according to documents.

When officers spoke with her a little while later, she smelled strongly of gasoline, police said. When officers eventually persuaded Velez to come out of his home, he also was covered in gasoline, according to police.

— Reach Sean Cotter