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Armin Wand pleads guilty
Armin Wand III listens to a line of questions from Judge Thomas Vale during a plea hearing Friday afternoon at Lafayette County Courthouse in Darlington. Wand pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree intentional homicide, for the deaths of his three sons in a Sept. 7 house fire, one week before the case was set for trial. (Times photo: Anthony Wahl)
DARLINGTON - A week before he was set to go to trial, Armin Wand III pleaded guilty and was convicted Friday afternoon of killing his three young sons and unborn child by lighting his family's Argyle home on fire to collect on their life insurance.

Allen Wand, 7, Jeffery Wand, 5, and Joseph "Jo Jo" Wand, 3, died of smoke inhalation in the fire Sept. 7 on Oak Street, according to a state investigation.

The boys' 33-year-old father told the judge Friday he wants to take responsibility, save the county the costs of taking the case to trial and spare his wife the burden of testifying before a jury.

His sentencing is at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 17. He faces multiple life sentences without parole.

When Judge Thomas Vale asked Wand to explain in his own words what this means, he responded, "That I'll be staying in prison until I pass on."

He also pleaded guilty and was convicted of trying to kill his then-pregnant wife, Sharon Wand, 27, by setting the fire. She survived but spent months in the hospital being treated for severe burns over most of her body. In January, she filed for a divorce.

Armin Wand was also charged with trying to kill the couple's 2-year-old daughter Jessica twice, once by setting the fire and again by trying to put her back in the burning house through a window after her mother saved her. The girl survived.

These charges were dismissed but "read in," meaning the judge can consider them in his sentencing.

Wand's brother, Jeremy Wand, 18, is charged with helping set the fire and faces similar counts of felony homicide. The senior at Argyle High School pleaded not guilty in December, but no trial is scheduled. He has a status conference next week.

As part of his plea deal, Armin Wand agrees to testify against in his younger brother. The brothers are both jailed in the Lafayette County Jail but aren't allowed to communicate.

Their mother, Barbara Wand, was one of a handful of people who turned out for the hearing. She has said the house fire was caused by faulty wiring and her sons are innocent. She wept in the lobby of the courthouse after the hearing but declined to comment.

Judge Vale is ordering the Department of Corrections to conduct a pre-sentence investigation of Armin Wand, which is a common practice for defendants entering plea agreements. This report on Wand's background, health and personality will be used to determine his sentence.

The plea hearing for Wand was announced less than two hours before it began Friday afternoon. The court was planning as recently as two days ago to go to trial Feb. 23 before a jury brought in from Marathon County.

"We were prepared for trial and expected trial," said Assistant State Public Defender Guy Taylor. Wand had been considering a plea agreement for some time, he added.

"I didn't expect the alacrity with which the case settled," Taylor said.

Prosecutor Roy Korte said Sharon Wand is aware of the plea agreement and was "fine" with the dropped charges alleging the attempted murder of 2-year-old Jessica, the only Wand child to survive. The potential for multiple life sentences on Wand's convictions makes these dropped charges moot, he added.

"Sharon will mourn every day for the loss of her sons," Korte said.

Jennifer Rhodes, a Department of Justice victim witness specialist, said Sharon Wand is out of the hospital and slowly recovering but will never walk again without assistance.