Moments ago, a federal judge sentenced Shawana Topekia Pierce, the former Fort Benning civilian employee who pleaded guilty in July of burning down the post’s Judge Advocate General’s headquarters, to 7 years in prison.
Pierce, 31, who had worked at the JAG office before being dismissed during an investigation into another matter, faced five to 20 years in prison.
As explained in Judge Clay Land's courtroom this morning, five years was the established mandatory minimum sentence based both on Pierce's criminal history and her decision to admit wrongdoing in the case.
After about an hour and a half of court testimony and discussion, Land ruled that it was "appropriate and necessary" to couple the 5 year minimum with an additional 2 years, which is what the government asked the court to consider in its "Motion for Upward Sentencing Departure" filed Oct. 9 in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia.
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In addition to the prison term Pierce has been given, Land ruled that Pierce would be responsible for paying restitution in the amount of $7.5 million, which was the estimated cost of cleaning up and disposing of the debris left behind after the Feb. 6 fire, replacing the 18,014 square foot building and relocating the functions and occupants of Building 5 to other sites around Fort Benning.
The fire, which Pierce admitted to setting in a fit of anger at her co-workers, caused almost $10 million in damage.
When given the opportunity to address the court, Pierce apologized for her actions. "I can't replace what happened. I'm very sorry," she said.
The JAG office was built almost a century ago and was the second-oldest building on Fort Benning. Its courtroom had seen many trials, including the court-martial of Lt. William Calley, who was convicted in 1971 of killing 22 civilians in the Vietnamese village of My Lai in 1968.
Please return to Ledger-Enquirer.com later this afternoon for the full story from today's court sentencing.