Man charged with arson, other crimes in Sept. 5 courthouse fire

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Johnny R. Pippin, Jr., 26,  of Decatur has been charged with arson, endangering a child and retaliation in connection with a Sept. 5 fire at the Wise County Courthouse in Decatur.

The charges were filed Tuesday after Justice of the Peace Terri Johnson issued warrants and set Pippin’s bond at $750,000 on the arson, $50,000 on endangering a child and $200,000 on retaliation — a total of $1 million.

Pippin is accused of setting a fire in a third-floor bathroom of the courthouse that morning, forcing the evacuation of the building as a thick, white smoke spread through the third floor. Bailiff Dick Wood said the smoke smelled like chlorine. It was originally thought that someone had tossed a cigarette butt into the trash can, igniting plastic bags.

Firefighters used fans to clear smoke from the building, which remained closed for the rest of the day.

But when Decatur Fire Department personnel found a bowl containing a burning substance in the bottom of the trash can in that bathroom, they suspected arson and called in Wise County Investigator Sgt. Mike Neagle.

Neagle’s work revealed that the day before the fire, Sept. 4, a county employee had come across a hand-written message on the wall in a men’s restroom in the courthouse basement. The message contained a death threat against County Attorney James Stainton.

The note said, “James Statan the DA is a dead m-f-. I know what you drive …” It also contained other threats.

A review of security camera footage in the courthouse yielded video evidence that a male subject, later identified as Pippin, had carried a backpack into the courthouse that day.

Investigators found that Pippin was listed on the docket for Sept. 5 in the County Court, where Stainton was prosecuting him on a misdemeanor weapons charge. At this scheduled court appearance, Pippin was sentenced to 50 days in the Wise County Jail.

A citizen told investigators that Pippin had set the courthouse fire, as well as other fires, as a diversion for other intended criminal activity.

After Pippin was sentenced in the weapons case, investigators took the information gleaned through interviews, search warrants and informants, and interviewed him. Texas Ranger Jim Holland said Pippin admitted that he had delivered the bowl with a chemical mixture to the third floor of the courthouse, causing the fire.

He also confessed that he had written the death threat against Stainton, and blamed the prosecutor for his troubles.

Pippin remains in the Wise County Jail — but as the current charges against him are felonies, he will no longer be procecuted by Stainton, but by District Attorney Greg Lowery.

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