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Man pleads guilty in store fire during unrest after protests

June 29, 2021 GMT

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A Philadelphia man has pleaded guilty to a federal charge in a fire set at a home improvement store during the unrest last year that followed the first night of protests against police brutality sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

Derrick Weatherbe, 29, pleaded guilty Tuesday to malicious damage by means of fire of a building and property used in interstate commerce in the blaze at the Lowe’s Home Improvement store in west Philadelphia. Unrest including thefts, vandalism, intentionally set fires and other property damage occurred in several neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia for several nights after the protests; the city enlisted the help of the National Guard.

Authorities say security camera footage from the Lowe’s in the early hours of May 31, 2020 showed a man they said was later identified as Weatherbe pick up a utility lighter and lighter fluid and carry them to the middle of the store where the fire was set. A flash of light could be seen about two minutes later, they said.

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The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that investigators tracked down the defendant’s Facebook account and saw items posted for sale that they were able to track back to the store. Investigators said he also shared posts saying large chain stores had insurance that would cover losses from the unrest, the paper said.

Weatherbe is scheduled for sentencing Oct. 12 on the charge, which the paper said carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years. His defense attorney declined comment Tuesday.