Amanda and Samantha Willard- THE GEORGIA PEACHES
AUSTELL, COBB COUNTY, GEORGIA
DA: Two plead guilty to arson, insurance fraud in Austell
Apr 18, 2017
Two women have pleaded guilty to arson and insurance fraud charges after admitting to setting their Austell home on fire in an attempt to collect insurance money, according to the Cobb District Attorney’s office.
The fire took place on Sept. 30, 2015, on Ivy Log Drive in Austell. No one was home when a passerby saw the flames and kicked in the front door to check for anyone inside, said Kim Isaza, spokesperson for the DA’s office.
Cobb firefighters discovered evidence of arson in the housee, such as the knobs on the gas stove all being turned on despite the pilot light being out, Isaza said.
Days before the fire, Amanada and Samantha Willard, who were married at the time and worked as paramedics at Grady Hospital, took out a $45,000 renter’s insurance policy on the property from USAA, Isaza said. The home had been purchased a year prior to the fire by Samantha Willard’s mother, Elizabeth.
Amanda and Samantha Willard denied knowing how the fire started and told investigators they left the home several hours before the fire was discovered, Isaza said. However, cell phone records and an neighbor’s eyewitness account place the women at the house shortly before the fire, Isaza said.
In addition to the $45,000 payout, which went to a joint bank account held by Amanda and Samantha Willard, Elizabeth Willard received $84,000 from her homeowner’s insurance, nearly twice what she paid for the property, Isaza said.
With a trial set to begin Tuesday, 26-year-old Amanada Grace Willard, also known as Amanda Grace Knepshield, pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree arson, insurance fraud and making a false statement, Isaza said.
Cobb Superior Court Judge Kimberly Childs sentenced Amanda Willard to 20 years on probation, 60 hours of community service and ordered her to pay $136,000 in restitution to the insurers, Isaza said, though the DA’s office had asked for a 10-year prison sentence.
Samantha Willard, 25, then pleaded guilty to the same charges with Assistant DA Marty First again asking for a 10-year prison sentence, Isaza said.
Samantha Willard’s attorney, John Steakley of Marietta, told Childs the crime was not financial in nature but involved a domestic incident between the two stemming from their failing marriage, according to Isaza.
Despite tearful statements from Samantha Willard, Childs sentenced her to 20 years with five to serve in prison and the rest on probation and ordered her to pay $136,000 in restitution, Isaza said.
As her sentence was being imposed, Samantha Willard took out her phone and appeared to send a text message, which drew a rebuke from the judge, Isaza said.