Last Defendant in Tennessee Islamic Center Burning Pleads Guilty
WASHINGTON – Eric Ian Baker pleaded guilty today in federal court in Nashville, Tenn., for his role in burning and vandalizing the Islamic Center of Columbia, Tenn., on Feb. 9, 2008. Baker was charged with violating civil rights that protect religious property and for using fire in the commission of a felony. Two other defendants, Michael Corey Golden and Jonathan Edward Stone, had previously pleaded guilty in November 2008 for their roles in the arson.
During the plea hearing, Baker admitted that he, Golden and Stone assembled Molotov cocktail incendiary devices, broke into the Islamic Center, ignited the devices and used them to completely destroy the mosque. He admitted to painting swastikas and the phrase "White Power" on the mosque in the course of the arson and that they acted because of the religious character of the property.
"The law protects the right of all Americans to worship where and how they choose without fear of violence or intimidation," said Loretta King, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "The Civil Rights Division will vigorously prosecute those who, through acts of terror, attempt to interfere with that right."
"This type of crime strikes at the heart of our civil rights and religious freedoms in America. I am very pleased that through local, state and federal cooperation all defendants responsible for this vile attack have been brought to justice," said U.S. Attorney Edward M. Yarbrough for the Middle District of Tennessee.
"Every Muslim who saw the news photos with the Swastika painted on the burned out Islamic center was victimized by this attack. Today, they can clearly see that American law enforcement stands strongly with them to guarantee their freedoms to worship and assemble," said ATF Nashville Field Division Special Agent in Charge James M. Cavanaugh.
"The FBI is committed to protecting the civil rights of all people through the enforcement of federal civil rights statutes," said FBI Memphis Division Special Agent in Charge My Harrison. "The destruction of any place of worship will not be ignored and the FBI will make every effort to bring those who commit such heinous acts to justice."
A date for Baker’s sentencing hearing will be scheduled at a later time. Stone and Golden are scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 23, 2009. All three 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.
The case was investigated by the Columbia, Tenn., Police Department and special agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Tennessee State Bomb and Arson and the FBI. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal McDonough and Civil Rights Division Trial Attorney Jonathan Skrmetti.