FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CR WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 14, 1996 (202) 616-2777 TDD (202) 514-1888
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Two former members of the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan pleaded guilty today to burning two predominantly African American churches in South Carolina last year. The investigation is being conducted by the National Church Arson Task Force formalized by President Clinton in June.
Gary Christopher Cox, 23, and Timothy Adron Welch, 24, who were charged today in a criminal Information with two civil rights conspiracies and two federal arson charges, admitted to burning the Mt. Zion AME Church in Greeleyville on June 20, 1995, and the Macedonia Baptist Church in Bloomville on the following day.
"Today's pleas once again underscore the seriousness with which the federal government is pursuing the burning of houses of worship," said Deval L. Patrick, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, and James E. Johnson, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury (Enforcement), the co-chairs of the National Church Arson Task Force. "These arsons are an assault on a basic tenet of American democracy -- religious freedom."
Judge David C. Norton, of the U.S. District Court in Charleston, accepted the guilty pleas.
According to the criminal Information, the Ku Klux Klan "advocated the supremacy of white persons over black, hispanic and other minority persons." It asserted that the K.K.K. "taught its members that churches attended primarily by black persons promote the interests of black persons to the detriment of white persons."
Cox and Welch had been charged in federal court in May with burning the Greeleyville church. In a criminal complaint, unsealed last month, the Justice Department alleged that the two violated a federal criminal arson statute in setting the blaze at Mt. Zion AME Church.
Cox and Welch, who face up to 55 years in prison, were arrested on state charges in June 1995, and have been in jail since that time. The two have agreed to cooperate with law enforcement authorities in the ongoing investigation into the burning of the two churches.
"They can scorch our churches but they cannot break the spirit of the community," said J. Rene Josey, U.S. Attorney in Columbia.
As part of the plea agreement, the two Klansmen also agreed to plead guilty to state charges of assault and battery with intent to kill for stabbing a black man in Berkeley County on June 16, 1995.
Since June 1, 1996, more than 90 church fires across the country have been reported to federal authorities. Arrests have been made in connection with at least 16 of these incidents, while another 16 fires have been ruled accidental.
The investigation includes the U.S. Attorneys Office in South Carolina, the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, the Clarendon County Fire Department and Sheriff's Office.
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