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Press Release

Arsonist Sentenced To Statutory Maximum

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of California

SAN JOSE - Donald Ray Williams was sentenced today to 20 years in prison – the maximum allowable sentence – for his 2007 arson of a building containing a Walgreens and a Subway sandwich shop in downtown Palo Alto, United States Attorney Melinda Haag announced.

On January 29, 2009, Williams was convicted on arson charges by a jury after a three week trial. Evidence at trial showed that Williams climbed up a pipe on the exterior of the building to the roof of the second floor and broke into an abandoned office. Williams then lit newspapers next to a wooden bookcase. The flames climbed up the bookcase to some wooden beams in the ceiling. A nearby security camera recorded a grainy image of someone who resembled Williams removing his shirt and then climbing the pipe. Williams was positively identified by DNA evidence found on the shirt in a dumpster at the bottom of the pipe, and by witness testimony that he had been seen climbing up the pipe in the past.

Evidence also showed that the fire collapsed the second floor roof of the building onto the location where firefighters had been working roughly five minutes before. Walgreen’s employees evacuated and avoided injury because the girlfriend of one the employees saw the fire on the roof and called her boyfriend. Likewise, customers and employees of Subway evacuated and avoided injury because a restaurant hostess from across the street noticed the fire and called 911 and followed the operator's instructions to alert the people inside Subway.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, San Francisco Field Division, Special Agent in Charge Joseph M. Riehl said "Arson is an act of violence and endangers our communities. I am grateful no one was hurt during the suppression of the fire and I am pleased with the successful investigation and prosecution."

Williams, 51, of East Palo Alto, was indicted by a federal grand jury on January 30, 2008. He was charged with arson. Trial and sentencing were delayed repeatedly as the result of court ordered hearings about the defendant’s competence to stand trial, and periods of resulting mental health treatment.

The Honorable Jeremy Fogel, U.S. District Court Judge, handed down the sentence. In addition to the prison sentence, Judge Fogel ordered Williams to pay $28.6 million in restitution and to serve a three year period of supervised release upon release from prison. Williams has remained in custody since his arrest in January, 2008.

Daniel Kaleba and Gary G. Fry are the Assistant U.S. Attorneys who prosecuted the case with the assistance of Legal Technician Tracey Andersen. The prosecution was the result of a six month investigation by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, with assistance from the Palo Alto Police Department and the Palo Alto Fire Department.


















Updated November 18, 2014