- The Washington Times - Monday, June 6, 2005

The suspect in nearly 50 arsons in the D.C. area pleaded guilty yesterday to murder and other federal charges, ending an ordeal that kept the area on edge for more than two years.

Thomas A. Sweatt, 50, admitted in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt to first-degree murder in the death of Lou Edna Jones, 86, who died of smoke inhalation from a fire in her Northeast home in June 2003.

Sweatt also pleaded guilty to second-degree murder charges in the death of Annie Brown, 91. She died of smoke inhalation a few days after Sweatt set fire to her next-door neighbor’s Northeast home on Feb. 5, 2002.

The fire that killed Miss Brown was separate from the list of 45 fires that Sweatt admitted to setting between March 2003 and December 2004.

Under a plea agreement, prosecutors in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland, Arlington and Fairfax counties and Alexandria in Virginia agreed not to bring charges against Sweatt for several other arsons.

Sweatt faces a minimum mandatory life sentence when he returns to U.S. District Court on Sept. 12. He could also get an extra 300 years in prison for 15 charges stemming from the seven fires with which prosecutors chose to charge him.

There is no parole in the federal system.

Sweatt’s family sat behind him, and victim’s families sat across the aisle as Sweatt told Judge Deborah K. Chasanow he was pleading “guilty to each and every count.” Later, he wiped away tears as prosecutors offered some new details about a few of the fires.

U.S. Attorney Brenda Johnson described how Sweatt used plastic jugs of gasoline with a sock or cloth at the top as a wick to set the fires. She said he developed the technique after almost burning himself by pouring gasoline on the ground and lighting it.

“It really hurt me to hear he sat on our mother’s front porch for 15 minutes before he set it on fire,” said Darlene Lloyd, Miss Jones’ daughter. She said justice has been served because Sweatt will spend the rest of his life in prison.

Sweatt, a fast-food eatery manager from the District, has been in custody since his arrest in April. Authorities have said they linked Sweatt to the fires after collecting DNA from items found at four crime scenes, including Marine Corps dress pants from a fire in Arlington.

Defense attorney John Chamble called his client’s guilty plea the first step in healing for the victims and their families.

Asked if Sweatt felt remorse, Mr. Chamble said “absolutely.”

Mr. Chamble left the courtroom with three of Sweatt’s sisters. As one of the sisters walked down the courthouse steps, she murmured, “We’re sorry for all of it.”

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