SPRINGFIELD MAN CONVICTED OF CHURCH ARSON
BOSTON, Mass. - A Springfield man was convicted today in federal court of charges related to the racially motivated arson of an African American church.
MICHAEL JACQUES, 26, of Springfield, Mass. was convicted by a jury sitting before U.S. District Judge Michael A. Ponsor of three crimes related to the burning of the Macedonia Church of God in Christ, a predominately African American Church, on the morning after President Barack Obama was elected as the first African American President of the United States. Those charges included:
Count One: Conspiring to injure, oppress, threaten, and intimidate the mostly African American parishioners of the Macedonia Church of God in Christ in the free exercise of the right to hold and use their new church building which was under construction;
Count Two: Damaging the parishioners’ new church building through arson and obstructing their free exercise of religion because of their race, color and ethnic characteristics; and
Count Three: Using fire to commit Counts One and Two.
United States Attorney Carmen Ortiz said, “This was a very serious case that affected the lives of hundreds of parishioners at the Macedonia Church of God in Christ. When I met with Bishop Bryant Robinson it was clear to me how much damage was inflicted on his community by this horrible act. It was not necessarily about the physical structure that was burned, it was about symbolic and personal nature of the crime,” said Carmen M. Ortiz. “We are very pleased with the jury’s verdict and want to reaffirm our commitment to defend our most fundamental rights, stemming the tide of hatred and discrimination.”
Evidence presented during the 21 day trial proved that in the early morning hours of November 5, 2008, within hours of President Barack Obama being elected, JACQUES and his co-conspirators BENJAMIN HASKELL and THOMAS GLEASON agreed to burn down, and did burn down, the Macedonia Church of God in Christ’s newly constructed building where religious services were to be held for its predominantly African American congregation. The building was 75% completed at the time of the fire, which destroyed nearly the entire structure, leaving only the metal superstructure and a small portion of the front corner intact. Investigators determined that the fire was caused by arsonists who poured and ignited gasoline on the interior and exterior of the building.
After an intensive investigation by law enforcement, JACQUES and his co-conspirators were identified as the arsonists. JACQUES, HASKELL and GLEASON all confessed to the crime and admitted that prior to the Presidential election they had used racial slurs against African Americans and expressed their anger at the possible election of Barack Obama as the first African American President of the United States. JACQUES, HASKELL and GLEASON admitted that after Barack Obama was declared the winner of the election, in the early morning hours of November 5, 2008, they walked through the woods from GLEASON’s house to the church, poured gasoline inside and outside of the church and ignited the gasoline. The resulting fire destroyed nearly the entire structure of the new church building.
HASKELL previously pleaded guilty and was sentenced to nine years in prison. GLEASON has also pleaded guilty and his sentencing is scheduled for April 28, 2011.
Judge Ponsor scheduled sentencing for September 15, 2011. JACQUES faces up to 20 years imprisonment, to be followed by five years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine on each count.
United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz; Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division; Guy N. Thomas, Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives - Boston Field Division; Richard DesLauriers, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation - Boston Field Office; Colonel Marian J. McGovern, Superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police; Hampden County District Attorney Mark Mastroianni; and Springfield Police Commissioner William J. Fitchet made the announcement today. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Paul Hart Smyth and Kevin O’Regan of Ortiz’s Springfield Office and Nicole Lee Ndumele, Trial Attorney in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.