A man who was convicted of setting a fire in 2007 that destroyed a Palo Alto Walgreens store was sentenced 20 years in prison by a federal judge on Wednesday, May 22.
Donald Ray Williams, 51, was ordered to pay $28.6 million in restitution, in addition to the 20-year prison term, by U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel.
Williams, of East Palo Alto, was convicted in 2009 of starting the four-alarm fire that destroyed 1903 building on the corner of University Avenue and Bryant Street downtown. A T-shirt recovered from a nearby Dumpster by a federal agent had Williams' DNA on it, according to investigators.
Williams has a long history of mental illness, and his sentencing has been repeatedly delayed while he received treatment to regain competence. He was tried in federal court because the Walgreens building was used in interstate commerce, relating to goods from other states.
His attorney, Susan Steiger Dondershine, in February 2010 asked Fogel to throw out the jury verdict. She argued that Williams was incompetent during the 2008-2009 trial, and he never received a psychiatric evaluation despite a 20-year history of severe mental illness.
Fogel rejected her argument, in part because the case was not ripe for review until he was sentenced.
In papers filed before the May 22 hearing, Dondershine asked the court to commit Williams to a Bureau of Prisons medical center with a psychiatric unit for the term of his incarceration. She also asked the court to sentence Williams to five years; he has already been incarcerated for six years since his arrest, she said in court papers.
Dondershine said her goal has been to restore her client's mental health and rehabilitate him. Williams has suffered from inadequately treated bipolar disorder with psychotic episodes since age 26, Dondershine said.
Williams has only recently been treated properly for the disorder, Dondershine told the judge. A court-appointed psychiatrist has said Williams' illness has remained in remission for the past seven months.
Williams was previously found incompetent in several state cases and was committed to mental hospitals, Manuel Araujo, Williams' former federal public defender, said in court papers during his trial. But Araujo said in a memo he did not pursue a mental evaluation of Williams because he feared Williams might say something that could harm his case.
The downtown building has since been rebuilt, and Walgreens reopened in 2010.