Local Teen Charged as Adult, Pleads Guilty to Church Arson
Jean-Claude Bridges Admits To Burning Church
DANVILLE, VIRGINIA -- A now 18-year-old resident of Henry County, Virginia, pleaded guilty this morning in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia in Danville to charges related to a fire deliberately set at a church.
Jean-Claude Bridges, 18, of Henry County, Va., waived his right to be indicted and pleaded guilty to a one count Information charging him with destroying a religious property by fire. Prior to pleading guilty this morning, the Court granted the government’s 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.”
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.
At sentencing, the defendant faces a maximum possible penalty of up to 20 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $250,000.
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 United States 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.