GREG BLUESTEIN, Associated Press
Eric Bracewell was sentenced to five years of probation Wednesday as part of the plea bargain deal, and was ordered to leave the U.S. and not return for at least 10 years. Defense attorney David Wolfe said Bracewell is returning to Liberia, where he had been an assistant director of the country’s Special Security Service since June 2007.
He was initially charged with attempting to set fire to the Ee & Ee Beauty Supply and Salon and the Queens Caribbean Restaurant and Club in Norcross in July 2006. Prosecutors didn’t detail a motive during a May court appearance, but Wolfe argued there was no direct evidence tying him to the fire.
Bracewell agreed to plead guilty to the lesser charge after prosecutors raised questions about where he was at the time of the fire. Wolfe said his client told authorities he was dropping his son off at his ex-wife’s house in Alabama at the time, but his ex-wife said he wasn’t there.
He said his client opted to plead guilty to the charge rather than risk a drawn-out court battle.
“Nobody ever wants to have a conviction on their record, but also nobody wants to face a trial in federal court because of the potential for being convicted,” said Wolfe. “Because we were able to work out this resolution, we thought it was in our best interest to enter the plea.”
The guilty plea is the culmination of five years of work by prosecutors who have been tracking Bracewell since the fire.
Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives negotiated with Bracewell for weeks to secure his safe arrival in Atlanta’s airport after a grand jury indicted him on the arson charges in April. Although U.S. officials granted him a visa to face the charges, federal Customs agents sought to block him from the country and send him back to Liberia when he arrived in May.
Liberia’s top officials have close ties to metro Atlanta. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has visited the city several times, and her granddaughter graduated in 2006 from a suburban Atlanta high school.