A man who pleaded guilty to setting the third-largest fire in Columbus history was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison Thursday and his accomplice received four years.
U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land sentenced Frederick William Bryant, 53, to 10.4 years or 125 months in federal prison on an arson charge in connection with the 2005 fire that destroyed the Cartersville Spinning Mill on 29th Street. His accomplice, Gail Louise Setters, was given a lesser sentence of four years on the same charge after a plea from public defender Christina Hunt of Macon, Ga.
In addition to their sentences, Land ordered Bryant and Setters to serve three years on supervised release after serving prison time and ordered a total of $1.8 million in restitution.
Setters told the court she’s sorry about being part of the arson. She held the flashlight on the Oct. 23, 2005, night Bryant ignited paper doused with lighter fluid.
“I’m grateful nobody got hurt in the fire,” said Setters, who had faced up to 6 1/2 years under recommendations in a presentencing report. “I’m sorry for my actions and being part of it.”
Bryant said the two didn’t want to burn down the building known as Jordan City Mills.
“We wanted to smoke it up so they move out,” he said.
Smoking the building up would have run others out and given the homeless couple full access to copper wire stored in the massive structure. Bryant said he and Setters stayed in the building on cold nights or slept in a car when they couldn’t find shelter.
Based on the 30-35 firefighters and numerous vehicles on the scene, Lt. Darrell Bryant of the Columbus Fire & Emergency Medical Services said the blaze was a three-alarm fire and the third largest in Columbus since 1930. It posed a threat to firefighters battling the blaze.
“It was very, very hot,” he said.
There were no injuries battling the fire that started in the center of the building. As the two-story building burned, Darrell Bryant said the intense heat blistered paint on fire vehicles parked across the street and melted the covers on seats.
Money earned from stolen copper wasn’t used to improve the lives of the couple but to buy more drugs, Hunt said.
Before Land agreed to reduce the recommended sentence for Setters but let Frederick Bryant’s stand, Hunt told the court that Setters’ actions can’t be excused but her life was shaped at an early age by her father who abused and beat her. The beatings continued when Setters met Frederick Bryant.
Frederick Bryant and Setters were serving prison time for burglary and criminal damage to property charges when they were charged in 2007, two years after the blaze burned the 210,000-square-foot building. Setters was in Pulaski State Prison under a different name when she agreed to tell authorities what she knew about the mill arson.
Her help in the case assisted authorities in securing a guilty plea from Frederick Bryant, said Michael Solis, an assistant U.S. attorney. Setters was ready to testify against him at trial, he said.