Man sentenced to 20 years for setting woman on fire

Richard Lee Luss (Photo source: Gautier Police Dept.)
Richard Lee Luss (Photo source: Gautier Police Dept.)

JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - An Ocean Springs man will spend 20 years in prison for pouring gas on his then-girlfriend and setting her on fire. Karla Villafranca suffered burns on more than 80 percent of her body, and spent four months in a medically induced coma. To this day, she is still recovering.

Assistant District Attorney Cherie Wade called Villafranca "a brave young woman," whose life was changed forever at the age of 22.

"Since the day she was burned, she has demonstrated courage by fighting for her life at the hospital, by telling the police that her boyfriend set her on fire, and today, by showing her strength at the plea hearing," Wade said.

"It took Karla ten months to get out of the hospital due to her extensive injuries and, to this day, she is still recovering. I am proud that she was able to see justice served today without having to suffer through the trauma of a trial and reliving the nightmare of November 27, 2011," District Attorney Tony Lawrence said.

At the time of the attack, in 2011, Mississippi didn't have a separate attempted murder statute. So Richard Lee Luss, 28, was charged with Aggravated Domestic Violence, Conspiracy to Commit Perjury, Tampering with a Witness, and Subornation of Perjury. He pleaded guilty to the charges Friday.

"This case is one of the reasons why the Mississippi prosecutors asked for the legislature to create a separate attempted murder statute," DA Lawrence said. "The new law took effect July 1, 2013. Unfortunately, that new law could not be used in this case and this defendant faced a maximum penalty of 20 years. But in the future, any individual who does that Mr. Luss did could face up to life in MDOC."

The Conspiracy to Commit Perjury, Tampering with a Witness, and Subornation of Perjury occurred between May 16-17, 2013. Prosecutors said that's when Luss convinced another inmate at the Jackson County Adult Detention Center to sign an affidavit under oath taking responsibility for setting Villafranca on fire. The scheme was discovered when officials realized that inmate was actually locked up when Villafranca was burned.

"Karla has to live with both physical and emotional scars of domestic violence. I hope her bravery is an example for victims of domestic violence that they too can find the strength to stand up for themselves against their abuser," Wade said.

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