WASHINGTON - Michael Corey Golden and Jonathan Edward Stone pleaded guilty today in federal court in Nashville, Tenn., for their roles in burning and vandalizing the Islamic Center of Columbia, Tenn., on Feb. 9, 2008. A third defendant, Eric Ian Baker remains under indictment for his role in the arson.
During the plea hearing, Golden, 23, and Stone, 19, admitted that they assembled Molotov cocktail incendiary devices, broke into the Islamic Center, ignited the devices and used them to completely destroy the mosque. The two further admitted that they committed the arson because of the religious character of the property.
"Violence based on religious intolerance is offensive to our nation’s fundamental values," said Grace Chung Becker, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "The Justice Department is committed to vigorously prosecuting federal laws prohibiting violent interference with religious exercise and other bias-based crimes."
"This case was solved as a result of swift action by local, state and federal agencies working closely with prosecutors in our office and the office of District Attorney General Mike Bottoms. Crimes of this type will not be tolerated in Middle Tennessee and offenders will be punished to the full extent of the law," said Edward M. Yarbrough, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee.
"The FBI is committed to enforcing federal civil rights statutes and ensuring that the civil rights of all persons are protected," said FBI Memphis Division Special Agent in Charge My Harrison.
"The attack on this mosque was an attack on the basic freedoms of assembly and religious practice. There is nothing more fundamental in America than that and there’s no crime more important to solve and prosecute," said ATF Nashville Field Division Special Agent in Charge James M. Cavanaugh
A date for sentencing hearings will be scheduled at a later time. Both defendants face prison sentences of up to 30 years for damaging religious property and for using fire and an explosive device to commit a federal felony offense.
With regard to the third defendant, Eric Ian Baker, an indictment is merely an allegation of guilt, and a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The case was investigated by the Columbia, Tenn., Police Department and special agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal McDonough and Civil Rights Division Trial Attorney Jonathan Skrmetti.