CEDAR RAPIDS — An arrest has been made in the death of Robyn Furmanski, who died after being pulled from a condominium fire in March, but was later determined to have died from blunt force injuries.
Onyale V. Hughes, 43, an inmate at the Tama County Jail who was living with an uncle in Cedar Rapids at the time of the fire, faces counts of first-degree murder, first-degree arson and first-degree robbery in Furmanski’s death. He is awaiting extradition to Linn County.
Authorities said evidence connected Hughes to Furmanski’s death, but a motive for the alleged killing has not been released. Cedar Rapids public safety spokesman Greg Buelow said the two knew each other.
“I don’t know the extent of their relationship,” Buelow said Wednesday. “It is believed the victim and offender knew one another, but I can’t categorize the relationship.”
A search warrant affidavit filed in the case includes witness statements placing Hughes in Furmanski’s condominium less than two hours before the fire was reported. He was seen again less than 20 minutes after the fire, according to court documents.
Furmanski, 62, was pulled from a fire in her condominium at 1218 Oakland Rd. NE that was reported at 2:42 a.m. on March 31. She was taken to St. Luke’s Hospital and pronounced dead. On April 8, authorities announced Furmanski’s death was being investigated as a homicide after the State Medical Examiner’s Office determined she died of blunt force head injuries, smoke inhalation and thermal injuries.
The fire was also determined to be intentionally set after a Cedar Rapids Fire Department investigator determined an accelerant had been used to intentionally start the fire.
“Obviously, the intent was to set a fire and it was very likely the intent was to conceal the other crime,” Buelow said.
Buelow praised the work of the fire department to not only preserve property when responding to the initial fire, but to also preserve evidence.
Buelow said Hughes — who goes by at least a dozen aliases, according to Vinelink, a victim notification service — was a person of interest in the case “fairly early” in the investigation. According to a search warrant affidavit filed the day of the fire, when investigators responded to the fire they found Furmanski’s black 2012 Cooper Mini was missing from the residence. An attempt to locate the vehicle was issued and officers found the car in the 1200 block of Maplewood Drive being drive by 48-year-old Daniel E. Ray, Jr. Ray was interviewed by police and found that Ray and Hughes had been drinking with Furmanski at her condo until about 1 a.m. Ray told police he left at that time when Hughes told him to “get some weed” for them. Ray said he took Furmanski’s Mini Cooper and left.
Ray told police Hughes was staying at a house on Third Avenue and brought officers to 1540 Third Ave. SE. Hughes was observed walking into the house and police made contact with him at 12:56 p.m. He was taken to the police department to be interviewed. The findings of that interview are not included in the affidavit.
Hughes’ uncle, John Hughes, told police his nephew had been staying with him for a couple of nights and had returned to the home around 3 a.m. that morning. Onyale Hughes was wearing the same clothes he had on the night before, except for the leather coat he was wearing when police stopped him, the affidavit states.
Police said while investigating Hughes, they discovered Furmanski’s prescription medications on him. An analysis of his clothing also turned up samples of Furmanski’s blood, police said.
It is unclear whether the murder weapon has been determined or found.
“Discussion of the weapon used and recovery still is part of the investigation with the County Attorney’s Office,” Buelow said.
Buelow said Hughes is serving a mittimus — or court order directing someone to jail — in Tama County. Hughes has a lengthy criminal history in Iowa, with convictions for assault with the intent to injure a police officer, burglary, theft, forgery, drunken driving, driving while barred, possession of a controlled substance, contempt of court and violating his probation.
First-degree murder is a Class A felony punishable by an automatic life sentence.