Virginia Teen Charged as Adult, Sentenced for Church Arson
DANVILLE – Jean Claude Bridges pleaded guilty earlier this year to deliberately setting a church on fire and was sentenced this morning in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia in Danville. Bridges was sentenced to serve two years in prison, two years of supervised release and ordered to pay $141,773.68 in restitution.
Bridges, 18, of Henry County, Va., pleaded guilty to one count of destroying a religious property by fire. Prior to his guilty plea, the court granted a government motion to transfer Bridges to adult status for criminal prosecution. The defendant was 17-years-old when the criminal conduct occurred.
“Mr. Bridges’ racial bias led him to commit the dangerous crime of arson,” United States Attorney Timothy J. Heaphy said today. “When he set fire to the New Holy Deliverance Outreach Ministry, he endangered neighbors and first responders. This act of prejudice offended the entire community. This office will protect the civil rights of everyone and vigorously prosecute crimes like that committed by Mr. Bridges. Racism has no place in Axton or anywhere else in the Western District of Virginia.”
“The freedom to practice the religion that we choose in a safe environment without being subjected to hateful acts is among our nation’s most cherished rights,” said Roy L. Austin, Jr., Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Anyone who violates this right will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
According to filings in the case, on May 20, 2012, at approximately 1:20 a.m., Bridges and another juvenile intentionally set fire to New Holy Deliverance Outreach Ministry, a church with a predominantly African American congregation, located in Axton, Va. In pleading guilty to this offense, Bridges admitted that he burned down New Holy Deliverance Outreach Ministry because of the race, color and ethnic characteristics of its congregants.
The investigation of the case was conducted by the Henry County Department of Public Safety, the Henry County Sheriff’s Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen, assisted by Trial Attorney Christopher Lomax of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, will prosecute the case for the United States.