WASHINGTON – An Ohio man was sentenced to 51 months in prison for setting fire to the First Azusa Apostolic Faith Church of God in Conneaut, Ohio , the Department of Justice announced today. Ronald J. Pudder, 23, of Conneaut, pleaded guilty last year to one count of intentionally damaging, destroying and attempting to destroy religious property because of the race, color, and ethnic characteristics of individuals associated with that property.
“In this nation, one of our most basic rights is the freedom to practice our faith in peace. We will not tolerate acts of violence that attempt to disrupt that right,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. “The Justice Department will aggressively prosecute acts of violence fueled by hate.”
“The defendant in this case meant to send a hateful message that hearkens back to the darkest days of our nation,” said U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio Steve M. Dettelbach. “But today, standing here, united against hate, we – black, white, Jewish, Muslim and Christian, man and woman, old and young – are sending a stronger message.
According to court documents, Pudder admitted that on May 20, 2010, he set on fire the First Azusa Apostolic Faith Church of God, which is the sole predominantly African-American church in the Conneaut area.
Neighbors called police around 4:45 a.m. after seeing the church in flames. The front door was scorched, but the flames did not penetrate the interior of the church. Investigators later determined the door had been doused with an accelerant, as had other doors on the church, but those did not catch fire.
This case is being prosecuted by Patricia A. Sumner, trial attorney with the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division, and Assistant U.S. Attorney James V. Moroney, following an investigation by the Painesville Resident Agency of the Cleveland FBI and the Conneaut Police Department.