CEDAR RAPIDS — Lois Webb told the man who struck her sister in the head and left her to die in a fire last year that she hopes God can forgive him, because she cannot.
At one point while giving her victim’s impact statement on Monday, Webb demanded that Onyale V. Hughes look at her during his plea hearing and sentencing in Linn County District Court. She wanted him to look at her because she resembles her sister, Robyn Furmanski.
Webb told Hughes he took so much from her family.
“Robyn was fun to be around and such a giving person,” said Webb, who lives out of state. “She was very charismatic. I feel like you took advantage of her.”
Hughes, 44, of Cedar Rapids, entered Alford pleas to voluntary manslaughter while in possession of a dangerous weapon, first-degree arson and misdemeanor animal abuse. Two of the original charges — first-degree murder and first-degree robbery — were dismissed as part of the plea agreement. In an Alford plea, a defendant maintains innocence but admits the prosecution has enough evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Based on the minutes of testimony, Assistant Linn County Attorney Rena Schulte said Furmanski, 62, was in an argument with Hughes over stolen property at about 2:42 a.m. on March 31, 2016, at her residence, 1218 Oakland Rd. NE. Schulte said Hughes “violently attacked Furmanski, striking her head with a hard, metal object.” He then intentionally set a fire to cover up the attack, she said.
Schulte said Furmanski was pulled out of the residence by Cedar Rapids firefighters when they arrived and taken to a hospital, but she never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead, according to police reports.
The Iowa State Medical Examiner’s Office determined Furmanski died of blunt force head injuries, smoke inhalation and thermal injuries, Schulte noted.
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Hughes waived his right to have a presentencing report prepared, and 6th Judicial District Judge Lars Anderson sentenced him to 37 years in prison following his guilty pleas.
The 10-year prison term for voluntary manslaughter, 25 years for arson and two years for animal abuse were run consecutively. Hughes must serve a mandatory five years on the voluntary manslaughter charge because it involved a dangerous weapon.
In her victim’s impact statement, Carrie Farmer, Furmanski’s daughter, asked the judge to give Hughes the maximum sentence, saying he is a menace to society and a threat to everyone if he loses his temper.
Farmer, who cried throughout her statement, said it also is difficult to explain how the crime has changed her life and that of her family. It’s even impacted her children, who have anxiety and trust issues being around people.
“You took away my last goodbye,” Farmer told Hughes. “She was still alive (when the fire started). Nobody should have to die that way. I hope this haunts you.”
Schulte said the evidence shows Hughes was invited to Furmanski’s home hours before her death by Daniel E. Ray Jr., 49, who was not charged in this case. The evidence shows Ray left the home and Hughes was the only one present with Furmanski, Schulte said.
When investigators responded to the fire they found Furmanski’s black 2012 Cooper Mini was missing from the residence, a warrant affidavit shows. An attempt to locate the vehicle was issued and officers found the car in the 1200 block of Maplewood Drive being driven by Ray, of Cedar Rapids. Ray told police that he and Hughes had been drinking with Furmanski at her home until about 1 a.m.
Ray also told police he left when Hughes told him to “get some weed,” court documents show. Ray then took Furmanski’s car and left.
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Schulte said the victim’s DNA or blood was found on Hughes clothing and investigators determined the fabric of Hughes’ coat he was wearing that night was “melted,” consistent with being in a fire.
Hughes declined to give a statement during his sentencing Monday.
Anderson also ordered Hughes to pay $150,000 to Furmanski’s estate, as required by law, other victim’s restitution to be determined later and all court fines. Hughes’ lawyers waived their fees in light of the restitution that Hughes must pay.
Hughes also waived his right to appeal and any post-conviction relief, as part of the plea agreement.
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