David Hartsell pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to setting fire to Building I at the Germantown Apartments on Feb. 27, 2017.
Conway police and fire departments were called to the Germantown apartment complex at 4:30 a.m. on the morning in question. By the time the fire department arrived on scene, the building was fully engulfed in flames. Some tenants were forced to jump from their second-story apartments to escape the blaze.
The early-morning blaze displaced 17 residents, injured two tenants and killed one dog.
The then-50-year-old Conway man was federally indicted on two charges — arson and using a destructive devise in furtherance of a violent crime — in July 2017.
After undergoing a psychiatric evaluation in 2018, the now-52-year-old was ultimately found fit to proceed with trial by U.S. District Judge D.P. Marshall Jr. in January. A trial was scheduled for March 25 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas in Little Rock. However, on Thursday, Hartsell entered a negotiated plea with federal prosecutors.
As part of his plea agreement, prosecutors have dropped the using a destructive devise in furtherance of a violent crime charge previously included in the indictment against Hartsell, according to court documents.
U.S. Attorney Chris Givens has recommended Hartsell be sentenced to 15 years in federal prison following the arson suspect's guilty plea.
As part of the agreement, Hartsell has admitted to "maliciously damaging and destroying by means of fire the Germantown Apartment complex in Conway," and injuring others during the incident.
The charge carries a maximum sentence range of 40 years in prison and can also carry a fine up to $250,000. In pleading guilty, Hartsell has agreed to pay back all restitution for all damages resulting in the Germantown blaze, according to the plea agreement.
"The defendant agrees ... that restitution is mandatory, and agrees to pay full restitution," Hartsell's plea statement reads in part. "The United States has identified some victims, but the parties anticipate that other victims unknown at the time of this agreement will be identified. The defendant agrees to pay restitution for any verifiable claim that is a result of the fire ... on February 27, 2017."
According to court documents, a full amount of restitution is currently unknown. However, officials do know Hartsell owes at least $378,541 following the apartment fire.
According to a search warrant affidavit, local authorities believe homemade bombs were used to ignite the early morning fire at the Germantown Apartment Complex at 955 South German Lane in Conway.
The search warrant noted a detective with the Conway Police Department found two Molotov cocktails in Hartsell’s apartment.
A Molotav Cocktail is a homemade bomb made in a glass bottle and filled with a flammable liquid, usually alcohol or gasoline.
“After the fire was extinguished the fire department located what appeared to be two ‘Molotav Cocktails’ with the wicks still attached in apartment I2,” the affidavit reads.
One bomb was found on the kitchen counter and the other under a sink.
“One cocktail was visible from outside the apartment and appeared to be a large bottle with the wick still attached sitting upon the kitchen counter of I2,” according to the affidavit. “The other cocktail reported was a gasoline can under the sink also with a wick coming out of it.”
A sentencing hearing before U.S. District Judge Marshall is scheduled to take place in federal court at 9 a.m. July 11.