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Madison man convicted in attempted arson during last year’s civil unrest

Subject #1 walking away holding the gasoline container.
Subject #1 walking away holding the gasoline container.(UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF WISCONSIN CRIMINAL COMPLAINT)
Published: Sep. 8, 2021 at 4:15 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A 46-year-old Madison man learned his fate Wednesday after pleading guilty to attempted arson stemming from last year’s violent demonstrations downtown.

Willie Tremaine Johnson entered his plea Wednesday and was sentenced to five years in a federal prison, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced. The other defendant in the case, Anessa Fierro, is set to appear in court next month.

Johnson and Fierro were accused of trying to set fires to two commercial buildings, an office building and a mixed-use building that included apartments and retail space, in the early morning hours of August 25, 2020, after mostly peaceful protests the previous night descended into civil unrest overnight.

“Arson should never be confused with legitimate protest.  Those who engage in such conduct without regard for the potentially deadly consequences will be held accountable,” U.S. Attorney Tim O’Shea said.

According to prosecutors, Johnson helped others smash the front windows of the office building as another person poured gasoline onto the walls. Johnson then set fire to the material being used as a wick, which ignited the fumes.

At the other building, he and several others again smashed windows while someone poured gasoline on the building. Johnson then tried to use a cigarette lighter to ignite the gasoline fumes, but gave up as Madison police officers approached.

“Willie Johnson displayed a complete disregard for the safety of others by committing these acts,” said ATF Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jonathan Ortiz, of the St. Paul Field Division. “A fire can easily consume a building in mere minutes, putting every occupant or passerby at risk of serious injury or death.”

Ortiz went on to note that several people were living in the apartments at the second building.

Fierro is set to appear in a combined plea and sentencing hearing on Oct. 19, O’Shea said.

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