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Man pleads guilty to courthouse chemical fire

By Brandon Evans | Published Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Decatur man plead guilty Tuesday morning in the same courthouse that he attempted to burn down last year.

Johnny Roy Pippin Jr.

Johnny Roy Pippin Jr., 27, received 18 years in prison for charges related to sparking a chemical fire inside the Wise County Courthouse. He also plead guilty to several other felonies including making a death threat against an elected official, one count of burglary, one count of theft and five additional charges for violating probation.

On Sept. 5 of last year, the courthouse was evacuated when foul-smelling smoke started filling the building. Fire investigators found a bowl containing a burning substance in the bottom of a trash can in a third-floor bathroom. The day before, a county employee discovered a handwritten message on the wall in a men’s bathroom in the courthouse basement. It contained several threats, including a threat to kill County Attorney James Stainton.

Pippin committed both of these crimes, a first and third-degree felony, just to delay a relatively short jail sentence.

“He threatened the attorney because he was about to send him to jail,” said Assistant District Attorney Tim Cole. “It was the same reason he set the fire. He thought it would delay his jail sentence. But it didn’t.

“He turned a 50-day jail sentence into an 18-year prison sentence.” Cole offered him a 20-year plea deal for the first-degree felony. He was satisfied with the 18-year compromise after negotiating. Pippin received 10 years for threatening Stainton, the maximum sentence for the third-degree felony. He also got a five-year sentence for each of the counts of violating probation and two one-year sentences for burglary of a building and theft. All the sentences are to be served concurrently.

“He went off on a tear there before he set the fire,” Cole said.

In June 2012, Pippin attempted to steal an ATM machine out of the Oliver Creek Convenience Store on Farm Road 2264. However, alarms went off, and Pippin fled before he could make off with the machine. The theft charge involved stealing several computers from Wal-Mart.

Pippin had also been indicted on setting fire to a vacant home in the 700 block of Trinity Street in Decatur last August, but those charges were dropped.

Cole said they had strong evidence and a strong case on all the other charges, including the two most severe felonies.

Security footage, from the day the death threat was discovered, revealed Pippin carrying a backpack into the courthouse. He then set up the bowl and chemicals, a combination of chlorine tablets and brake fluid, in the trash can in the third-floor bathroom about 4:30 in the afternoon, a day before he was scheduled to have a court appearance for a misdemeanor weapons charge.

Investigators searched Pippin’s home and found chlorine tablets, brake fluid and bowls with a pattern identical to those found at both fire scenes.

Pippin was on probation for five counts of burglarizing homes back in 2004. He had already completed six of his seven years of probation before he got caught committing his latest rash of crimes.

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