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Woman facing charges in Atlanta Wendy's fire asks for separate trial, attorney says

Natalie White was arrested and charged with arson in 2020 after a Wendy’s burned in southwest Atlanta

ATLANTA — In a Fulton County Superior courtroom 31-year-old Natalie White remained silent as her attorneys on Friday made arguments on her behalf.

White has been indicted and is charged alongside 35-year-old John Wade and 25-year-old Chisom Kingston with two counts of first-degree arson and a single count of conspiracy to commit arson for the 2020 burning of a Wendy's along University Avenue in southwest Atlanta. 

Credit: Fulton County
Left to right: Natalie White, John Wesley Wade, Chisom Kingston

A day before the fire, the restaurant served as the backdrop for the deadly shooting of Rayshard Brooks by an Atlanta Police officer. 

The shooting led to protests and eventually the fire.

Friday's hearing marked White's first time in a courtroom since 2020 after her case became one of many delayed during the pandemic. 

Her lead attorney Drew Findling argued White shouldn't be charged with conspiracy because he claims prosecutors have failed to show any connection between the defendants.

"My client has no relationship to her co-defendants," Findling told the Fulton County Superior Court Judge Eric Dunaway. 

After the hearing Findling told 11Alive, "If three people shoplifted at Macy's on the same day and had nothing to do with one another you wouldn't throw them in the same indictment and that is exactly what took place here."

White's attorney also argued he wants White tried separately, first because of the lack of connection in his opinion between the defendants. He also pointed to a guilty plea Wade entered in federal court earlier this year for another arson case.

In court documents, federal prosecutors link to a social media video showing United States Postal Service vehicles and visible flames outside a post office in Atlanta. 

That fire took place later in 2020 after the fire at the Wendy's. 

While out of jail on bond in connection to the Wendy's arson case Wade was wearing a GPS ankle monitor. 

Federal court records show evidence from prosecutors placing Wade at the scene of the post office fire where postal vehicles, property, and mail were burned.

Wade entered a guilty plea in the federal case and is now serving a 5-year federal prison sentence in connection with that case. 

White's legal team believes a jury might have a prejudice against all of the defendants if they're tried for arson together and information about Wade's federal arson case is introduced at trial. 

"And that would not be admissible at a trial if she was severed and tried separately," said Findling's co-counsel Zachary Kelehear. 

White's attorneys asked Judge Dunaway to consider tossing evidence gathered by investigators, arguing her cell phone data and texts shouldn't be allowed at trial. 

Kelehear argued investigators didn't meet a legal threshold when they requested and received a search warrant to access White's phone records. 

An assistant district attorney from the Fulton County District Attorney's Office on Friday argued appropriate probable cause to obtain the warrant was shown and the evidence should be allowed. 

Prosecutors also advocated for the three defendants heading to trial together and argued they have met the requirements to have the trio charged with conspiracy to commit arson. 

Dunaway said he would rule by the end of the upcoming week on the requests from White's attorneys to have her tried separately, have the conspiracy charge dropped, and have evidence from her cell phone tossed.

After the defendants were indicted this past January, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis released the following statement: 

"Today’s indictment sends an important message. We recognize and will protect the right of people to protest. We cannot, however, tolerate violence like arson, even if done in the name of protest. We will hold accountable those who endanger lives by committing acts like those alleged in the indictment.”

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