Scott Hunter, walb.com (GA), Mar. 17, 2004
Turner County — An Ashburn couple accused of burning down their own home then blaming it on the Ku Klux Klan will be soon be going on trial. Investigators say Patrick and Shanda Burwell may also be connected to another suspicious fire two years earlier.
A couple that claimed to be victims of a racist hate group were in a Turner County courtroom Wednesday morning answering charges of arson and deception.
“Mr. Burwell is charged with two counts of arson in the first degree, one occurring in September 2001, and one again in 2003, and his wife is charged with him in the 2003 arson,” says Ronney Wheeler assistant district attorney for Turner County.
Last year the Burwells claimed the KKK savagely burned down their home, painting racial slurs across the walls. But the GBI says the couple painted the words to deceive investigators — that they had actually hired someone to burn their home.
Allegations strengthened by the fact that the couple had just received a $ 100,000 pay out on a fire that happened in the same home just two years before.
“This particular crime, of course you have two arsons happening in the same place and we think that makes it a more aggravated case and the manner in which the crime was attempted to be covered up we find that disturbing,” says Wheeler.
Patrick Burwell could get 50 years in prison if convicted of the arsons, theft by deception and felony escape after walking out of Turner County Jail.
His wife Shanda is free on bond but and faces far less jail time if convicted on only one of the arson charge.
Prosecutors point out that just days before the 2003 fire the Burwell’s home had been foreclosed on, and was slated for public auction. The Burwells continue to deny any involvement with the fires.