Darlene Lloyd feels some relief that Thomas A. Sweatt will spend the rest of his life in jail without the possibility of parole for setting the fire that killed her mother.
But closure is not easy when her mentally handicapped son continues to ask at dinner each night for his grandmother, Lou Edna Jones.
“Being handicapped, he doesn’t understand why she is not coming back,” Mrs. Lloyd said. She planned to reassure him that Sweatt was not coming back now, either.
As victims of the serial arsonist spoke at his sentencing yesterday at U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, they said they still don’t understand what led Sweatt to set random fires that terrorized the Washington area for two years.
“I would love to just find out exactly why he did this,” said Jean Kyler, whose 94-year-old mother is still not able to return to her fire-damaged home.
Sweatt, 50, admitted setting 45 arson fires in the Washington area. Investigators know how he did it — using jugs of gasoline, and clothing for a wick. But the reason why remained unanswered even as a federal judge sentenced him yesterday to life in prison plus 136 years.
“To the victims and the victims’ families, I’m very sorry for all the harm I’ve caused you. To those who have lost loved ones, I share your hurt every day,” Sweatt said.
He was dressed in a dark gray suit and appeared almost timid as he leaned into the microphone to speak and turned to the families gathered in court.
The former fast-food restaurant manager admitted that between February 2003 and December 2004 he set 45 fires: 21 in the District, 17 in Prince George’s County, three in Fairfax County, two in Montgomery County, and one each in Arlington County and Alexandria.
Under a plea deal, local prosecutors agreed not to charge Sweatt with other arsons.
Sweatt also pleaded guilty to two murder charges.
He took responsibility for the June 2003 death of Mrs. Jones, 86, in her Northeast home, as well as 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 in February 2002.
Sweatt has been in custody since his arrest in April. Authorities have said they linked him to the fires after collecting DNA from items found at four crime scenes, including Marine Corps dress pants from a fire in Arlington.
Sweatt showed no emotion during the victims’ statements or the sentencing, but earlier said he welcomed the sentence.
Kenneth L. Wainstein, U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, called the sentence “a fitting punishment and a fitting conclusion to this case.”
Judge Deborah K. Chasanow told Sweatt she realized he has mental health issues, but that they could not excuse what he did and how he “terrorized” the community.
It will be up to federal prison officials to decide whether to transfer Sweatt from a Charles County prison. There is no parole in the federal system.