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Gainesville soldiers wife pleads not guilty to setting fire that killed 2 kids
1218BillieJo Smallwood
Billi Jo Smallwood

PADUCAH, Ky. — The wife of a Gainesville soldier has pleaded not guilty to charges of setting a fire that killed her two young children at their home on a Kentucky military base.

A judge’s order shows Billi Jo Smallwood, 35, also pleaded not guilty Wednesday to a federal charge of attempting to destroy a residential facility for members of the U.S. Army that caused the death of two minors.

The May 2007 fire at Fort Campbell killed Sam Fagan, 9, and Rebekah Smallwood, 2, and injured her husband, Army Spc. Wayne Smallwood. The Smallwoods’ toddler daughter, Nevaeh, was not injured.

Billi Jo Smallwood could face execution or life in prison if convicted. U.S. Magistrate Judge W. David King appointed a federal public defender for Smallwood, who listed no income since being charged.

Smallwood was arrested Nov. 18 in Gainesville, where her husband lived, and was taken to Kentucky on Tuesday, where she is being held in federal custody.

Smallwood listed $1,270 in monthly expenses on a financial affidavit, but noted that she currently has no job.

"I no longer have a house or food expenses due to my situation," Smallwood wrote. "These would be my normal expenses. I am no longer employed."

The fire broke out in a two-story housing unit where six families lived in a housing development called Lee Village that dates to the 1940s and was in the process of being torn down. About 10,000 family members live in housing on the sprawling base that straddles the Tennessee-Kentucky state line, according to the most recent Fort Campbell fiscal report.

The unsealed federal grand jury indictment said Smallwood planned to set the fire with the intention of causing a person’s death and her motive was to receive money.