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Press Release

Berlin Man Pleads Guilty in Fatal Arson Case

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

The Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Vermont stated that Howard Hoisington, age 34, formerly of Berlin, pleaded guilty today in the United States District Court in Burlington to arson and robbery charges stemming from the fatal arson that occurred in Northfield in December 2015. Hoisington, who has been detained since his arrest in December 2015, appeared before Chief Judge Christina Reiss and pled guilty to arson with death resulting and conspiracy to commit robbery.

As described during the change of plea proceedings, in the fall of 2015, Jonathan Zampieri, Howard Hoisington, Tammy Wilder, Kevin Atwood and Kim Hoisington committed a series of robberies of drug dealers in the Washington County area of Vermont. Three of these robberies involved dousing a person selling drugs with gasoline and threatening them with a lighter to rob them of their drugs and cash. The last of these robberies resulted in a fire that destroyed a building in Northfield and killed innocent bystander Brittany Burt.

Also according to court records, on December 14, 2015, Zampieri, Howard, Tammy Wilder, Kim Hoisington and Amanda Wilder drove in Zampieri’s vehicle to pick up Atwood in Montpelier. They all drove to the Cumberland Farms in Northfield where Zampieri filled two mason jars with gasoline. Zampieri, Howard and Atwood then drove to the apartment of Efren Serrano on Union Street in Northfield, Vermont, from whom they had arranged to purchase crack cocaine. Zampieri, Howard and Atwood went to Serrano’s apartment and kicked in the front door. They found Serrano and Serrano’s girlfriend, Brittany Burt, in the bedroom. Serrano and Burt were doused with gasoline and the men demanded Serrano’s drugs. When Serrano did not respond, the men pulled out a lighter. The lighter went off, igniting the gasoline vapors and causing the room to burst into flames. Zampieri, Howard and Atwood fled the building. At some point, Serrano was able to run from the building on fire. Serrano sustained life threatening injuries, but he survived. Brittany Burt could not escape the building. She died on the bedroom floor.

This case was part of the United States Attorney’s Office Violent Crime Initiative, aimed at pursuing federal prosecutions involving the intersection of drug trafficking and violence. Acting United States Attorney Eugenia A. P. Cowles condemned the use of violence to further the illicit drug trade and noted that the United States Attorney’s Office will continue to prosecute those who, like the defendants in this case, disregard human life.

Under federal law, the arson charge carries a potential life sentence, but the plea agreement caps Hoisington’s sentence at twenty-five years in jail. Hoisington’s co-defendants, Jonathan Zampieri, Tammy Wilder, and Richard Hoisington, have all pleaded guilty to various charges. Kimberly Hoisington’s change of plea hearing is scheduled for next week.

The case was investigated by the Vermont State Police, Vermont Drug Task Force and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The United States Attorney’s Office worked in partnership with the Washington County State’s Attorney Scott William to investigate and resolve this important matter. Howard Hoisington is represented by Steven Barth and Elizabeth Quinn of the Federal Public Defender’s Office. The United States is represented by Criminal Chief Paul Van de Graaf and AUSA John Boscia.

Updated August 25, 2017

Violent Crime