Carter pleads guilty in arson case

Donald Carter leaves the Clay County Circuit Court Monday after being sentenced to 10 years for second-degree arson. His attorney, Martin Stewart and Judge Lee Howard look on.
Staff Writer

A West Point man will serve a 10-year sentence for setting a woman's house on fire rather than taking a chance on getting life in prison.

With the agreement of the victim, prosecutors reduced the charges against 60-year-old Donald Carter from first-degree to second-degree arson. He was scheduled to stand trial today, but his plea Monday in Clay County Circuit Court headed that off.

As part of the plea bargain agreement, Clay County Circuit Court Judge Lee Howard sentenced Carter to the maximum 10 years required for second-degree arson. He is sentenced as a habitual offender, meaning he must serve the entire sentence.

Carter had prior convictions for stabbing his wife to death in Illinois and assaulting a women with a knife in Clay County.

If he'd gone to trial and been found guilty, he faced life in prison.

Carter pleaded guilty to setting fire to the Higgins Alley home of Ethel Townsend on June 5, 2015. 

During Monday's plea, Assistant District Attorney Marc Amos said Carter went to Townsend's home at about 11:15 p.m. that Friday night, woke her and asked to be let in. Townsend refused and an angry Carter said he was going to burn the house down. Townsend went back to her bedroom and Carter set the carport on fire, Amos said.

Fortunately, West Point firefighters got to scene minutes later and were able to "pull Ms. Townsend from the home and put out the fire," Amos said, but not before the fire did about $20,000 in damage to the home.

When the judge asked if those were the facts, Carter answered, "Yes sir."

Prosecutors amended the indictment to take out reference to setting fire to the "dwelling house" to reduce the charge from first- to second-degree arson. Amos said Townsend, who pushed for prison time for Carter, agreed to the reduced charge.

Carter's history in Clay County dates back to 2004 when he was charged with assaulting Willie Pearman with a pipe and cutting Alisha Graham with a knife. On Jan. 19, 2005, he was sentenced to 15 years with five suspended. He served his time but had part of his probation revoked in 2010 and he returned to prison. He was released in October 2012 and discharged from all his sentence in May 2013.

On Aug. 19, 1984, when he was 27, he stabbed his wife, Rene Carter, four times after they got into an argument. She died from her wounds. He'd previously been convicted of battery on her on two different occasions.

On June 12, 1986, he was convicted of murder in that case in Cook County, Ill., and sentenced to 32 years. 

He served part of his sentence and was released from prison in 2000. In 2003, he was released from all supervision and put on a bus to West Point in 2003, according to court records filed as part of the arson case.