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U.S. Nurse on Trial in Monaco for Billionaire Banker's Death in Fire

November 23, 2002|From Associated Press

MONTE CARLO — An American nurse who has confessed to setting a blaze that killed his billionaire employer said in a Monaco court Friday that he never expected the fire to rage out of control.

On the second day of his trial, Ted Maher indicated that the fire was part of a bizarre plan to ingratiate himself with Edmond Safra, his wealthy employer. Safra, the founder and principal stock owner of Republic National Bank of New York, died in the Dec. 3, 1999, blaze in his Monaco penthouse, along with Viviane Torrente, one of his private nurses.

Looking gaunt and speaking in a monotone, Maher told the court that he started the blaze in a small wastebasket, expecting it to set off a fire alarm that would bring help and allow him to reap the credit for saving his employer.

"It was very stupid," Maher said. Pinching his nose and bowing his head, he added: "I will have to live with this daily for the rest of my life.... It was a terrible accident, that's all it was. A terrible accident for which I share my part of the responsibility. I never wanted to hurt Safra."

Maher, 44, could face a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted of arson that led to the deaths of two people.

He testified that he started the fire, then stabbed himself -- convinced he would emerge the hero who rushed his employer to safety while fending off attackers. Safra and Torrente suffocated in the smoke-filled bathroom where they sought refuge.

Rescuers were slow in responding to the smoke alarm, Maher testified. The defense contends that police stopped firefighters from entering the building, believing two intruders were still inside.

Maher, a former Green Beret, helped care for Safra, who suffered from Parkinson's disease.

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