Chinatown man testifies attacker stabbed, set him on fire
By Ken Kobayashi
Advertiser Courts Writer
By Ken Kobayashi
A 65-year-old man testified yesterday that he was stabbed and set afire after he threatened to call security to stop a couple from arguing loudly in his Chinatown high-rise apartment.
"That's when all hell broke loose," James Swann told a jury in Judge Dexter Del Rosario's courtroom.
Swann said William Alston attacked him with two kitchen knives and threatened to kill him.
He said Alston poured some sort of flammable liquid on him before he felt the pain from the fire.
"I was bleeding and on fire," Swann said. "I don't remember too much."
Alston's Circuit Court trial opened yesterday.
He is accused of setting off a bizarre 14-hour ordeal at the 18th-floor apartment at 155 North Beretania St. It began about about 2 a.m. May 2 last year. It ended when police went to the apartment in the afternoon.
Alston, 40, is charged with attempted murder, kidnapping and terrorizing Swann and three others, including Alston's wife, Lygeia.
He is also charged with sexually assaulting a 50-year-old woman who was in the apartment.
City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle said the ordeal started with a loud domestic dispute between Alston and his wife, which woke up Swann in the next bedroom of the two-bedroom apartment.
Alston attacked Swann with the knives, slicing his arm as Swann tried to fend him off, Carlisle said. Alston then poured rubbing alcohol on Swann and set him afire with a lighter, leaving him with burns on his face, chest and arm, Carlisle said.
Alston gained control over the others in the apartment — his wife, Swann, the 50-year-old woman and Cliff Marable, the prosecutor said.
Alston tied them up, and sexually assaulted the woman when she was bound, Carlisle said.
The ordeal ended after Alston let his wife leave to get candy and juice for the diabetic Marable and crack cocaine, Carlisle said.
The wife told a police officer what was happening before returning, the prosecutor said.
Alston's attorney Nelson Goo told the jury the apartment was actually the scene of a "three-day party binge" with the people in the apartment drinking and taking crack cocaine.
"There was no question they are getting intoxicated, losing their mind because of crack cocaine," Goo said.
He told the jury that the people in the apartment were free to go; that no sexual assault took place, and Alston never intended to kill Swann whom he knew for years.
Goo said his client used a pocket knife on Swann, not the larger kitchen knives. Goo also said Alston did not pour the alcohol on Swann. Alston poured the alcohol on a piece of plastic, threw the plastic at Swann and lit the plastic, Goo said.
Goo said the stab wounds did not threaten any vital organs and Swann was released from the hospital the next day.
The defense lawyer said his client may have been abusive and reckless, but "there was no intent to kill."
Swann, who testified he has known Alston since he was a boy, said he rolled on the floor and tried to tear off his T-shirt after he was burning. He said he felt a lot of pain, then was also gagged with a sock and tied up.
"Everybody was trying to stay out of (Alston's) way," Swann said.
Reach Ken Kobayashi at firstname.lastname@example.org.