U.S. Department of Justice
United States Attorney
Middle District of Georgia
For Immediate Release
July 17, 2009
Maxell Wood, United States Attorney
Contact: Sue McKinney, Public Information Officer
Arson Defendant Enters Guilty Pleas
COLUMBUS — Maxwell Wood, United States Attorney announced that Shwana Topekia Pierce, age 31, of Columbus, Georgia entered a guilty plea on Wednesday, July 15, 2009 before the Honorable Clay Land, United States District Judge for the Middle District of Georgia. Pierce entered a guilty plea to a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 844(f)(1), Arson. Pierce is subject to a minimum sentence of five years imprisonment up to a maximum sentence of twenty years imprisonment, $250,000.00, plus three years of supervised release. There is no parole in the federal system.
Pierce admitted to burning down the Staff Judge Advocate (OSJA), Building Number 5 located at 6970 Vibbert Avenue, Fort Benning, Georgia. On February 6, Pierce traveled to Fort Benning and went to the OSJA, Building 5, where she broke a window and entered the building. Pierce poured gasoline in different places in the building and also placed piles of paper on some desks. Pierce then placed the two propane gas bottles inside the building. Pierce then used the butane lighter to ignite the gasoline-soaked parts of the building and departed.
The Fort Benning Fire Department, assisted by the Columbus Fire Department, responded and suppressed the fire. The OSJA office building was completely destroyed. Two first responders, a fireman and a policeman, suffered smoke injuries during the fire and were treated at a hospital.
After setting the fire, Pierce posted on her MySpace.com webpage, a photograph of herself and inserted her Profile Name as “Firestarter.” On the webpage, Pierce described her mood as “Happy.” The next day, Pierce changed the “mood” on her MySpace webpage to read “Fabulous.”
Building 5 was the second oldest building on Fort Benning and is historically significant because it contained the original courtroom where Second Lieutenant William Calley was court-martialed for his role in the atrocity at My-Lai, Vietnam. The building, including all furniture, computer systems and interior items, was valued by authorities at $9.7 million.
All the government employees who worked at Building 5 lost personal items and memorabilia in the fire. Many of the items and memorabilia are irreplaceable and the monetary value of such items cannot account for their personal significance.
The case was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Army-CID, Fort Benning Fire Department and Columbus Fire Department. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Michael T. Solis.
Questions concerning this case should be directed to Sue McKinney, Public Affairs Specialist, United States Attorney’s Office, at (478) 621-2602.