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Bond denied in fatal fire case

Wife of Gainesville soldier to be transferred to Kentucky

POSTED: November 25, 2008 5:00 a.m.

A federal magistrate judge denied bond today for a woman accused of setting a fire on a military base. The fire killed her two young children.

U.S. District Court Judge Susan Cole said the evidence presented in court against Billi Jo Smallwood "appeared strong," and with Smallwood facing a potential death sentence, the risk of flight was too great to consent to a bond.

Smallwood, 35, is charged with maliciously causing the destruction by fire of U.S. Army property, resulting in death.

Smallwood's son Sam, 9, and daughter Rebekah, 2, died in the May 29, 2007 blaze in Fort Campbell, Ky. She was arrested in Gainesville on Tuesday following an 18-month investigation by the U.S. Army and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Smallwood's husband, U.S. Army soldier Wayne Smallwood of Gainesville, stood in support of his wife during today's court hearing. Smallwood was among more than 15 supporters who watched today's court proceedings from the gallery.

The judge heard testimony from a U.S. Army criminal investigator who said burns to Smallwood's legs and forearms were consistent with someone leaning over to start a fire. Arson investigators determined the fire set at the couple's on-base apartment was started with gasoline and they found melted remnants of a plastic gas can in the apartment, U.S. Army Criminal Investigations Division Special Agent Matthew Cummings testified.

Smallwood admitted in an interview to buying a gas can the day of the fire, but said it was for a lawnmower, Cummings said.

Cummings also said two smoke detectors were disconnected in the home and that Billi Jo Smallwood claimed to have received a threatening phone call. When the ATF checked phone records to the home, they found no call was received at the time she claimed, Cummings testified.

Smallwood also refused to take a polygraph test after her husband consented, Cummings testified.

Smallwood will be transferred from Gainesville to Kentucky, where her case will be heard.


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