NEW YORK – A man accused of spraying gasoline on a 73-year-old woman and setting her ablaze in an elevator was charged Monday with murder and arson, appearing in court with the left side of his face blistered and burned, his upper lip swollen.
Jerome Isaac, 47, said nothing during the brief hearing in Brooklyn criminal court, where he was ordered held without bail in the death of Deloris Gillespie. His lawyer requested solitary confinement and medical attention but did not speak outside court.
Isaac often did odd jobs at her apartment and told police he set her on fire because she owed him $2,000, authorities have said.
He has no prior criminal record, but that does not mean he is not highly dangerous, Assistant District Attorney Kenneth Taub said. He told authorities where they could find the gasoline.
"I know this is the defendant's first offense, but the depravity of this particular single act is beyond my description," he said.
Surveillance video from the elevator shows Isaac dressed somewhat like an exterminator, holding a canister sprayer, wearing white gloves and with a dust mask atop his head. The sprayer was full of gasoline, prosecutors said.
According to the criminal complaint, Isaac doused Gillespie with gasoline as she stood in the elevator, which had just opened to the fifth floor of her apartment building in the Prospect Heights section of Brooklyn. She crouched and cowered, grocery bags draped off her arms.
Isaac pulled out a barbecue-style lighter, authorities said, and used it to ignite a rag in a bottle. He waited a few seconds as Gillespie huddled on the floor. Then he backed out of the elevator and tossed the flaming bottle in, authorities said.
Gillespie died of burns and smoke inhalation, according to the criminal complaint.
Isaac fled the building, then went around the corner and set his brother's apartment door on fire, according to the complaint.
Visibly burned, Isaac then hid on a nearby rooftop in the winter cold for hours before he surrendered, reeking of gasoline, police said.
Isaac lived with Gillespie for about six months last year but appears to have ended by early this year, neighbor Jaime Holguin said.
Holguin, the manager of news development for The Associated Press, months later started seeing Isaac nearby on the street, looking disheveled and pushing a cart full of aluminum cans.
Gillespie's funeral is planned for after Christmas, according to City Council member Letitia James, speaking on behalf of the family, which she said has requested privacy.
She had four children — one daughter and three sons, according to James — and regularly attended a Baptist church near her home.
Isaac's next court date is Friday.
Associated Press writers Deepti Hajela and Colleen Long contributed to this report.