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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of Virginia

Monday, May 23, 2011

Roanoke Man Pleads Guilty To Arson Charges

John Conner Faces Lengthy Prison Term

ROANOKE, VIRGINIA – Following four days of testimony by government witnesses during his trial on arson and witness intimidation charges, a local man pleaded guilty this morning in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia in Roanoke to not only the arson he was on trial regarding, but also to conspiring to commit a second arson he was involved with.

John Henry Conner, 25, of Roanoke, asked the Court to cut short his jury trial and instead pled guilty to a total of nine charges related to an arson that occurred on Eastern Avenue. Conner pled guilty to one count of arson, one count of conspiring to tamper with witnesses, five counts of tampering with witnesses and one count of aiding and abetting the harassment of a witnesses by repeated text messages.

In addition, Conner pled guilty to a one count Information charging him with conspiring with J.H. and others to commit an arson on January 26, 2009 at 1418 Greenbrier Avenue for the purpose of collecting insurance money. Conner conspired to submit false information to Liberty Mutual Insurance Group for the purpose of obtaining proceeds for the damage to the residence. Conner was not previously charged for his involvement in this incident.

Whitney Lynn Roberts, 23, also of Roanoke, previously pleaded guilty to one count of harassing witnesses by repeated text message in order to prevent them from testifying.

“On two separate occasions, John Henry Conner burned residences, one for revenge and one with the intent to falsely claim insurance proceeds.” United States Attorney Timothy J. Heaphy said today. “His repeated acts of arson put the lives of many innocent people at risk and injured two Roanoke City firefighters. He later tried to cover up his awful crimes by threatening and intimidating witnesses against him. Mr. Conner will be punished for his pattern of fraud and intimidation. This case shows that the government will vigorously pursue acts of violence, fraud and obstruction, whenever and wherever they occur.”

These charges stem from an arson that took place on November 15, 2008 at a residence Conner once lived in at 1610 Eastern Avenue N.E.. Conner had admitted that after arguing with a girlfriend and being told to remove his belongs from the home, Conner set fire to the residence. Conner was indicted for that offense on July 22, 2010. On August 20, 2010, the court ordered Conner to have no contact with a specific list of persons, including Roberts. The order was made because prior to the July 2010 arson indictment, Roberts made numerous 3-way calls for Conner while he was incarcerated.

Following the August 2010 order, Conner made hundreds of calls to Roberts. The pair were able to circumvent the court order by using other inmate’s Jail Pay Tel phone ID numbers and by Roberts changing her cell phone number, which should have been blocked by the regional jail. Through these phone calls, Roberts and Conner made contact with several government witnesses and attempted to persuade them to change their testimony or lie to help Conner establish an alibi. During some of the phone calls between Roberts and Conner, Conner boasted about his ability to intimidate witnesses and credited Roberts for her assistance.

In addition, Roberts established a facebook account for Conner and made it appear the posts were coming from Conner himself. These posts were designed to intimidate government witnesses.

Each defendant faces a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison for the conspiracy charge, up to 20 years in prison for each count of witness tampering and up to 3 years in prison for the harassing a witness charge. In addition, Conner faces a sentence of between 7 and 40 years for the arson charge.

The investigation of the case was conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Roanoke City Fire Department and the Roanoke City Police Department. Assistant United States Attorney Jennie L.M. Waering is prosecuting the case for the United States.

Updated April 15, 2015