Georgia Woman Convicted Of Setting Fire To Residence At Fort Campbell Causing The Deaths Of Her Two Minor Children
PADUCAH, Ky. – Today, following a nine day trial, a federal jury in U.S. District Court, found Billi Jo Smallwood, of Brunswick, Georgia, guilty of maliciously setting fire to a residence, located on the grounds of the Fort Campbell Army post, causing the deaths of her two minor children, nine-year old Sam Fagan and two-year old Rebekah Smallwood, announced David J. Hale, United States Attorney for the Western District of Kentucky.
The jury, sitting in Paducah, deliberated 2 hours before returning a unanimous verdict of guilty to the single count of the September 22, 2010 superseding indictment returned which charged Smallwood with maliciously setting the March 29, 2007, fire that caused the deaths of her two minor children. Smallwood, age 39, is married to a former soldier who was stationed at Fort Campbell, where the family also lived.
“The facts of this case are tragic and heartbreaking. The evidence presented by the United States at trial conclusively established that Billi Jo Smallwood deliberately set fire to her residence while her children slept inside. Today’s unanimous jury verdict holds Smallwood accountable for her actions.” stated David J. Hale, United States Attorney for the Western District of Kentucky.
During the trial, the United States presented evidence that Smallwood intentionally set fire to her home after substantial planning and that she did so knowing that setting the fire created a grave risk of death to a person, and was in reckless disregard for human life, and that the victims died as a direct result of her acts.
Evidence presented at trial included physical and documentary evidence that Smallwood purchased a specific gasoline container approximately 12 hours before the fire was set. Remnants of the container were found by investigators in the first floor dining area of the two story apartment, where gasoline had been poured and was ignited.
Smallwood’s statements to investigators were successfully challenged by a fire expert who testified at trial that burns to Smallwood’s legs and forearms were not consistent with her account of when she claimed to first see the flames. Smallwood’s statements to investigators that she saw “blue flames” rapidly moving across the room, established that she was in the room when the fire was ignited, according to the expert. The expert testified that the blue flames are visible only when fire started with gasoline is first set.
Evidence was presented at trial that Smallwood fabricated a claim that she had received a threatening phone call meant for her husband, on the eve that the fire was set, in order to divert attention away from herself. Phone records and trial testimony established that there was no record of an incoming call as Smallwood had claimed.
The United States argued Smallwood was trying to kill her husband, Wayne Smallwood, to get out of a difficult marriage and collect on his $400,000 life insurance policy.
Sentencing has been scheduled before U.S. Senior District Judge Thomas B. Russell, in Paducah, September 2012.
The case was tried by Assistant United States Attorneys James R. Lesousky, Jr. and Marisa J. Ford. The Bowling Green Field Office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) conducted the investigation in partnership with the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division, as part of ATF’s ongoing commitment to reduce violent crime and other threats to public safety. Members of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Bomb and Arson Squad, provided valuable assistance during the investigation.