Arrest made in 2016 killing of Texas attorney who was set on fire

The Dallas Police Department did not specify what new evidence led to the arrest but noted that Aubrey has been a person of interest since the beginning.

STOCK PHOTO A firetruck disrupts a quite suburban night as it rushes by in the dark, lights flashing, blurred by the rapid motion.

STOCK PHOTO A firetruck disrupts a quite suburban night as it rushes by in the dark, lights flashing, blurred by the rapid motion.

Perry Gerenday/Getty Images

By the time the firetrucks arrived at the home of a prominent Dallas attorney in May 2016, the garage was overwhelmed with thick black smoke as flames tore through the enclosed space. Ira Tobolowsky was missing, his wife told the firefighters.

First responders feverishly fought the blaze as they searched for the 68-year-old man. Then they found him - dead on the ground beside his car, his body burned after being doused with gasoline. The medical examiner later ruled his death a homicide from thermal burns, smoke inhalation and blunt-force trauma.

From the very start, Tobolowsky's family pointed to a man who had been embroiled in a heated lawsuit with the attorney: Steven Aubrey. Almost six years passed with no arrests.

That changed Wednesday, when Aubrey, 61, was charged with capital murder in Tobolowsky's death - a serious offense in Texas that is eligible for the death penalty. He was arrested in Broward County, Fla., jail records show, and is being held on a $2 million bond. It is unclear if Aubrey has an attorney.

The Dallas Police Department did not specify what new evidence led to the arrest but noted that Aubrey has been a person of interest since the beginning.

"Ultimately the information and evidence gathered during the years-long investigation have resulted in making the arrest," the police department said in a news release.

In a statement to KTVT, Tobolowsky's son Michael said the arrest is "amazing news we have long waited for."

Tobolowsky's gruesome death on May 13, 2016, horrified the public, making national headlines. Tobolowsky was a prominent, well-respected attorney in Dallas with deep roots in the Jewish community. He once successfully argued a case in the U.S. Supreme Court. About 1,200 people attended his funeral, according to D Magazine.

Soon after Tobolowsky's death, police asked the family if the lawyer had any enemies. They identified Aubrey and his partner, Brian Vodicka, who in the months leading up to the incident had been on the opposite side of a caustic lawsuit. (Police have not implicated Vodicka in Tobolowsky's killing.)

Tobolowsky and Aubrey met in August 2014 when the attorney represented Aubrey's mother in a lawsuit Aubrey filed after being written out of her will. Throughout the course of the case, Aubrey allegedly grew increasingly antagonistic toward Tobolowsky. Aubrey accused the attorney of several crimes, including witness tampering and bribery, according to D Magazine. He filed a motion that called Tobolowsky an "ISIS butcher," referring to the terror group, and at one point scheduled a deposition during the Jewish high holiday Rosh Hashanah, the magazine reported, and Tobolowsky filed a motion of contempt, accusing Aubrey of making "anti-Jewish remarks that are insulting, cruel, and evil."

Aubrey eventually dropped his case. But Tobolowsky filed a defamation lawsuit against Aubrey and Vodicka in the summer of 2015. He also successfully argued that Aubrey should be declared a vexatious litigant, which creates guardrails for someone who files countless frivolous lawsuits. Aubrey would no longer be able to sue someone without a judge's permission.

The case was ongoing when Tobolowsky was killed. After suspicions that the murder could be connected the case, police provided the judge presiding over it with extra security. He recused himself about a week after the fire. Tobolowsky's family won $5.5 million in the suit in May 2017.

Evidence pointed to a planned attack from someone who knew Tobolowsky, police said. Tobolowsky's family also discovered a hole in the fence, giving a direct line of vision to the garage. Detectives suspected the killer had been watching Tobolowsky for days, tracking his schedule.

Investigators searched Aubrey and Vodicka's home three times in the days following the incident, according to police. Records show they were looking for evidence that could tie them to a juice bottle filled with gasoline found at the crime scene, medical supplies used to treat burns and a drill used to make the hole in Tobolowsky's fence. They also looked for electronics and said they found a computer with a wiped hard drive.

In the meantime, the couple remained aloof, dodging police when they visited their home and eventually staying in a second apartment they owned in Dallas, D Magazine reported. They were brought in for questioning about a week after the lawyer's death. Police called in a doctor to assess whether marks on Aubrey's arm were burns. The doctor's findings were inconclusive, according to D Magazine.

At that time, detectives could not compile enough evidence for an arrest.

In November 2016, the detective on the case told one of Tobolowsky's sons that his team had circumstantial evidence that Aubrey was involved in the incident but had nothing to prove that he was at Tobolowsky's house on May 13, D Magazine reported.

But in the years that followed, Tobolowsky's sons did not give up hope. The family started working with private investigators and posted an ad on a billboard over a major Dallas highway offering a $25,000 reward for anyone who came forward with evidence that would lead to an arrest.

Aubrey, who is in custody in Oakland Park, Fla., will be extradited to Texas, police said.

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