Arson defendant loses bond appeal

WOODSTOCK – A man accused of setting a fire inside a local Wal-Mart was denied bail Friday for the second time in several days.

Leonard Garris Jr., 24, of 249 Lakeview Drive, Woodstock, was returned to the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail after Circuit Judge Dennis L. Hupp said releasing him from jail would be too risky to public safety.

Authorities say Garris used a cigarette lighter to start a fire on a piece of wood covered in plastic.

The fire was quickly suppressed by two customers who seized a fire extinguisher. Authorities say the damage would have been much worse had the fire reached some nearby solvents and other flammable materials.

Garris had already left the scene by the time firefighters arrived. Law enforcement officials say he is facing additional charges connected to a dumpster fire that broke out at the Hampton Inn a short time after the Wal-Mart fire.

Assistant Public Defender Peter McDermott told Hupp that Garris wanted to move out of his residence on Lakeview Drive and live with one of his brothers in Fort Valley.

“Really, his brothers are his family,” McDermott said of Garris, adding that he believed they could raise $500 cash for bond.

McDermott also cited a sole conviction for trespassing in North Carolina as evidence that Garris is not a hardened criminal and need not be held without bond.

A charge of arson carries a presumption against bond, although judges are not bound by it.

Hupp said he was concerned about protecting the public from arson.

“I think that’s a highly dangerous act, and I’m not confident he does not constitute a danger to the community,” Hupp said of Garris.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or