- The Washington Times - Friday, April 29, 2005

Serial arson suspect Thomas A. Sweatt told investigators he made a New Year’s resolution this year to break his addiction to setting fires and that he had targeted homes in which residents were asleep, prosecutors said yesterday.

‘He was quite often aware that there were people in the houses when he set the devices,’ Assistant U.S. Attorney Mythili Raman said during a detention hearing in federal court in Greenbelt. ‘He said, quite simply, that he enjoyed it.’

U.S. Magistrate William Connelly ordered Mr. Sweatt, 50, held until trial, based upon what he considered clear and convincing evidence that he would be a danger to the community if released.

Mr. Sweatt was arrested Wednesday in connection with 49 arson cases in the District, Maryland and Virginia but it is not clear where his trial will take place.

Law enforcement sources said they expect Mr. Sweatt to be transported next week to the District, However, a court appearance has yet to be scheduled there because Mr. Sweatt has waived his right to a preliminary hearing.

Mr. Sweatt, dressed yesterday in the same blue shirt, black pants and sneakers he wore for his initial court appearance Wednesday, did not speak during the half-hour hearing.

Ms. Raman said Mr. Sweatt has admitted to setting 37 house fires, including the June 2003 fire in Northeast that killed Lou Edna Jones, 86.

She said Mr. Sweatt also told investigators he had a ‘crudely manufactured’ fire-starter — made from plastic jugs, gasoline and a cloth wick — in his car when authorities questioned him April 19 and that he knew before then that authorities were closing in on him.

‘He told agents that when he saw the second sketch of himself, he knew he would be caught,’ she said.

John Chamble, the federal public defender representing Mr. Sweatt, said the crimes were ‘monstrous’ but that Mr. Sweatt was not a monster. He characterized his client as a ‘tragic individual crying for help.’

Mr. Chamble said Mr. Sweatt had no record of mental health issues but failed to convince Magistrate Connelly that his client should be conditionally released to the custody of his sister.

Court documents read by Magistrate Connelly revealed few additional details about Mr. Sweatt’s life.

Mr. Sweatt, a native of Roanoke Rapids, N.C., has lived in the District since 1977. He had lived in the 500 block of Lebaum Street SE since 1992 and worked at the KFC at Bladensburg Road and New York Avenue NE since 1993. He was promoted to manager in December and earned $1,700 a month.

Court documents stated Mr. Sweatt had no history of substance abuse, had not consumed alcohol in 10 years and had had a few ‘extremely minor’ run-ins with the law.

Several of the arson victims were in the courtroom yesterday.

Mrs. Jones’ daughter, Darlene Lloyd, said she was a frequent customer at the fast-food restaurant in which Mr. Sweatt worked.

‘He probably waited on me, then turns around and takes my mother’s life,’ she said.

Denise Giles’ home in the 2400 block of Wintergreen Avenue in District Heights was set on fire in the early hours of June 21, 2003. Mrs. Giles said she just wanted to get a look at who would commit such crimes.

‘It brought on a whole lot of emotions,’ she said ‘I was upset, I was happy, I was just glad they caught him and that he will go to trial for this.’

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