GPS links all five arsons to same criminal

Posted at 10:28 AM, Feb 14, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-14 19:54:23-05

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WTVR) - A Midlothian man who set fires in Chesterfield County was sentenced to three years and six months behind bars during a Thursday morning hearing. John Bradley Smith, 31, was also ordered to pay $500,000 in restitution and get mental help.

Last fall Smith pleaded guilty to setting fires at a vacant antiques store on Midlothian Turnpike, a vacant daycare center on Village Mill Drive and three other vacant structure on Coalfield Road, Mistywood Road and Robious Road.

Investigators got a break in the case in May when they found burnt clothes at the scene of the fire on Robious Road.  After calling area hospitals, police were led to St. Francis Hospital, where Smith went for treatment for second degree burns.

Lt. Jason Elmore with Chesterfield Fire said Smith told investigators he was filling his car with gas on Midlothian Turnpike when the gas can exploded.

“After they interviewed him, they felt very confident,” Elmore said.

Using DNA, surveillance video from gas stations and GPS tracking, investigators linked Smith to all five fires.

Police also found a letter on Smith’s computer that he sent to fire officials on May 23 that said, “This fire was arson. Those responsible may have set other fires in the area too. They may continue to do so unless stopped.”

In court Thursday, Smith apologized to the victims whose property he burned.   Wearing a  grey suit and blue shirt, Smith teared up twice as family and friends testified on his behalf.

Smith's family said they are actually pleased with the sentence the received.  A mental evaluation and family testimony showed Smith suffered from depression after the death of his father a few years ago.

Smith's family says they want him to get the help he needs, so he can remain the loving man they all know.

"I think that he's going to get the help he needs when he gets out.  I think all the support he got from his church family and his family did a world of good," said Kerry Hughes, Smith's sister, only minutes after her brother was sentenced.  "I am very pleased with the results.

Prosecutors called three of Smith's victims to the witness stand Thursday, who all suffered thousands of dollars in property damage because of fires Smith set.

Prosecutors estimated the total amount of property damage from the five fires was more than $488,000.  No one was injured from any of the fires.

Commonwealth's Attorney Dennis Collins asked the judge to sentence Smith to 10 years in prison because of Smith's background and statements he made to investigators that showed he knew better despite his mental state.

"Someone who has a Bachelor's Degree, a Master's Degree, a teaching certificate, and is working on a nursing degree, he's certainly educated, and certainly knew better," said Collins.  "It doesn't make any sense for him to do five fires in 15 days."

Smith will serve three years and six months in the state penitentiary and pay more than $500,000 in restitution once he is released from prison.