The Wilson Times

Monday, November 11, 2013 12:50 PM

Fire defendant faces short sentence

By Corey Friedman | Times Online Editor

A man accused of setting fire to Wilson’s Etheridge Associates real estate office will likely spend less than a year in prison.

Linwood Earl Wellington’s sentencing is scheduled Wednesday in Wilson County Superior Court. He pleaded guilty in March to felony breaking and entering under an agreement with prosecutors.

Police said Wellington, then 29, and 28-year-old Quentin Torase-Elivia Wingate broke into the Etheridge Associates building at 400 Seven Hills Annex and stole three computers before torching the office on June 23, 2012.

The men were identified as suspects after police released surveillance video from the break-in, theft and fire. Detectives said they found Wingate’s name and the words "More fire” written in graffiti in a backyard garage during a search of his Wilson home.

Both men were initially charged with breaking and entering, larceny after breaking and entering and burning certain buildings. Each defendant pleaded to one charge in exchange for prosecutors agreeing to dismiss the other two.

Wellington entered his plea on March 26, and Superior Court Judge Alma L. Hinton entered a prayer for judgment that continued the case until April. Sentencing was postponed and is now scheduled for Wednesday.

Breaking and entering is a Class H felony, the second-least severe of 10 classifications for serious crimes in North Carolina. Those convicted can serve a minimum of 4 months’ community punishment to a maximum of 1 year, 4 months in prison.

Convicts’ criminal histories determine where they fall in the sentencing range. With four past felony convictions and one misdemeanor, Wellington will likely receive a 9-month to 11-month prison term under North Carolina’s structured sentencing laws.

Court records show that Wellington was convicted of assault inflicting serious injury in 1999, felony larceny in 2001, breaking and entering in 2004, possession of a firearm by a felon in 2004 and driving while impaired in 2007.

Wellington is classified as a record level IV offender under state sentencing guidelines. The presumptive sentence is 9 to 11 months, but he could receive slightly less time if the court finds mitigating factors or slightly more time if the judge acknowledges aggravating factors.

Wellington also agreed to pay $1,200 in restitution to Etheridge Associates, which is one of Wilson’s largest commercial real estate developers.

The restitution is about 1.2 percent of the estimated $103,000 in damage the fire caused to the Etheridge building and its contents. Despite the extensive damage, Wilson Fire and Rescue Services officials said the office was not destroyed and could be rebuilt.

Wingate is in Central Prison in Raleigh, where he’s serving a 9-year to 11-year, 10-month sentence on a burning certain buildings conviction. Wingate pleaded no contest to the charge and agreed to a habitual felon enhancement in a deal with prosecutors.

After beginning his prison sentence in April, Wingate mailed a handwritten notice of appeal to the Wilson County clerk of superior court’s office. Court records show he voluntarily withdrew his appeal in September.

Smithfield attorney Marie H. Mobley wrote that Wingate "fully understands that he is entitled to but one direct appeal of his conviction and that by withdrawing the appeal, he waives any and all right to said direct appeal, without waiving the right to seek appellate review by petition of writ of certiorari.” | 265-7821

©The Wilson Times, Wilson, North Carolina.
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