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Arson Case Briefs

provided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms
for more information on this Brief, contact:
ATF, Arson and Explosive Programs Division - (202) 927-7930

Linda's Stop and Shop
Houston, Texas
December 20, 1994

A. IN: 53141-97-0017 K

B. CASE AGENT: David Bock

C. FIELD DIVISION/OFFICE: Houston/Houston Group III (Arson/Explosives Group)

D. PHONE: 281-449-2093


Daniel Rizzo
Assistant District Attorney
Special Crimes Section

F. SYNOPSIS: On December 20, 1994, the Houston Fire Department responded to a reported smell of gasoline fumes at Linda's Stop and Shop, a convenience store in Houston, Texas. Upon arrival, fire department personnel saw shredded papers in two locations that had burned briefly and then extinguished. Inside the store, they also saw several open plastic containers containing possibly flammable liquid inside the store, as well as poured suspected flammable liquid throughout the store.

The Houston Arson Bureau and ATF were notified. Store employee Theu Thi Nguyen, no relation to the owner At Thi "Linda" Nguyen, was interviewed and stated that when she arrived to open the store at 7:00 a.m. she found the front door unlocked and the lights turned off. She notified Linda Nguyen, who arrived, acknowledged the gasoline fumes, and told the employee to go home and not call the police. Linda Nguyen was also interviewed and provided suspicious and conflicting accounts as to why the business was found unlocked and why no action was taken to notify police or the fire department when the fumes were discovered. She admitted that the business was doing badly and was over- insured by almost twice its current value.


Texas Penal Code

Section 28.02, Arson, second degree felony

H. LEGAL ISSUES: Though the fire in this case was clearly a result of arson, the involvement of the business owner was shown primarily through her own statements to investigators immediately after the fire and the financial audit, which revealed the poor condition of the business. The owner was interviewed in Vietnamese with the assistance of a Houston Police Department bilingual officer. Her statement revealed that she had made sudden and unexplained changes in the manner in which she closed the store the night of the arson. Specifically, she sent the employee who was scheduled to close the store home early, instructing her to leave the key to the store under a newspaper rack near the front door. Further, upon being notified of the fire by that same employee the following morning, the owner told her to go home and not to notify the police. The statement was clearly not consistent with what a reasonable person would have done in that situation. The employee was also interviewed the date of the fire with the assistance of the interpreter, and she impeached several aspects of the owner's statement. The timing of these two interviews was critical to the case in that it caught the owner off guard and contributed to her unbelievable explanations. Also, the employee was interviewed before the owner could potentially influence her testimony. However, in spite of these facts, the case remained largely circumstantial and it is believed that this contributed to the light plea bargaining offer by the State. Interestingly, the business was sold in the months after the failed arson attempt to a business associate of the owner's and was destroyed in an arson fire 1 year later. That case is currently under investigation, and the first owner's conviction is viewed as helpful in developing the second case.

I. VERDICT AND SENTENCING: Prior to trial, Linda Nguyen pled guilty to Arson in the 177th Harris County Criminal District Court and was sentenced to 3 years deferred adjudication and fined $750.

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