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Chesterfield man lied to police about burn marks from arson

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Chesterfield County, Va. (WTVR)—A man plead guilty Wednesday to setting several fires in Midlothian back in May.

The 32-year-old John Bradley Smith pleaded guilty to five felony counts of arson. The fires were set at a vacant antiques store on Midlothian Turnpike, a vacant daycare center on Village Mill Drive and three other vacant structure fires on Coalfield Road, Mistywood Road and Robious Road.

All the fires, set between May 11 and May 26, started in the rear of the buildings or in an area out of sight from the roadway.

Investigators got a break in the case on May 26 when they found burnt clothes at the scene on Robious Road.  After calling area hospitals, police were led to St. Francis Hospital, where Smith had gone for treatment for second degree burns.

Lt. Jason Elmore with Chesterfield Fire says Smith told investigators that he was filling his car with gas on Midlothian Turnpike when the gas can exploded.

“After they interviewed him, they felt very confident,” Elmore says.

Using DNA, surveillance video from gas stations and GPS tracking, investigators were able to link Smith to all five blazes.

Police also found a letter on Smith’s computer that he had sent to fire officials on May 23 that said, “This fire was arson.  Those responsible may have set other fires in the area too.  They may continue to do so unless stopped.”

In court Wednesday, Smith’s family tearfully reacted to the guilty plea, arguing Smith suffered from emotional problems.

“My brother is a very good man,” said Kerrey Hughes.  “He’s a minister, he has a degree in education, he’s a father to my three children because I’m a single mother

“…People do screwed up things for screwed up reasons,” Hughes said.

Prosecutor Dennis Collins argued in court that the consequences of Smith’s actions could have been far worse than the estimated $500,000 thousand dollars in structural damages.

A homeless man was living in the vacant daycare center on Village Mill Drive but had gone out for a walk just minutes before the fire was set.

Smith faces two to five years in prison in four of the felony charges against him.  A fifth felony carries a possible life sentence.  Smith will be sentenced on February 14.