CHICAGO — A Cook County judge on Monday denied bail for a Melrose Park man accused of lighting a homeless Chicago man on fire.
The 75-year-old victim, Joseph Kromelis, known as “The Walking Man,” is not expected to survive.
Authorities arrested 27-year-old Joseph Guardia last Friday and charged him with arson and attempted murder after allegedly dousing Kromelis with flammable liquid as he slept on Lower Wabash last Wednesday.
A break in the case came when a Melrose Park police officer noticed Guardia from surveillance photos released by the Chicago Police Department.
Guardia allegedly told Chicago police that he thought he was lighting a pile of old blankets and garbage.
“It takes a special kind of evil to do what the defendant did in this case,” said Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Danny Hanichak.
On Monday, prosecutors described the early morning incident, captured on nearby surveillance cameras, that saw a man in a white windbreaker standing over the sleeping Kromelis.
“For 16 seconds, he stood over the victim at close range,” Hanichak said. “His statement that he didn’t know a person was there was outrageous and it was a lie.”
Investigators say Kromelis’ head and legs were visible underneath a blanket. Guardia allegedly emptied a large McDonald’s cup of gasoline onto the sleeping man’s head before lighting him on fire.
“The defendant chose to pour gasoline on a human being and then set them on fire, leaving him to burn alive for three minutes,” Hanichak said.
According to police, Guardia fled the scene on foot to a nearby CTA Blue Line stop. A security officer from a nearby building used a fire extinguisher to put the fire out.
Records show Guardia has a long history of violent and non-violent convictions from burglary to batter charges.
Veteran prosecutors say it’s the worst thing they’ve ever seen on video.
“This defendant did not target someone he had an argument with, or someone who wronged him, or someone that he even knew,” Hanichak said. “This defendant decided to target the most vulnerable person possible — a 75-year-old homeless man sleeping on the street.”