Jury Convicts Perez of Hate Crime in Burning of Victoria Mosque
VICTORIA, Texas – A federal jury in Victoria has returned guilty verdicts on all counts as charged related to the 2017 burning of the local mosque.
U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick made the announcement along with Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, Special Agent in Charge Fred Milanowski of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner of the FBI and various state and local law enforcement agencies.
“This case represents the great coordination and cooperation of many federal, state and local law enforcement agencies,” said Patrick. “The Department of Justice is committed to protecting the religious liberty of all people and their ability to practice their faith without being the target of this kind of dangerous activity.”
“All people are entitled to live free from violence and fear, regardless of their religion or place of worship,” said Gore. “Perez’s actions were criminal, unlawful and dangerous. This Justice Department is committed to holding hate crimes perpetrators accountable under the law.”
The jury found Marq Vincent Perez, 26, of Victoria, was responsible for a hate crime in the burning of the Victoria Islamic Center Jan. 28, 2017, and for use of a fire to commit a felony. In addition, they found he possessed an unregistered destructive device for an incident that occurred on Jan. 15, 2017.
“Houses of worship are scared places in America,” said Milanowski. “We are pleased in the outcome of this investigation, and ATF will continue to aggressively investigate all House of worship fires.”
“Hate crimes are not only an attack on a specific victim, they threaten the cornerstone of diversity that America was built upon,” said Turner. “Perpetrators of hate crimes, like Perez, aim to chip away at our nation’s foundations by instilling fear into entire communities with violence.”
In his opening statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) Sharad S. Khandelwal outlined the case against Perez, his hatred for Muslims and what transpired on several occasions in January 2018, leading up to the fire. “This is a simple, straightforward case of hate,” he said.
The jury heard from a total of 19 government witnesses, to include law enforcement officers, experts and others who testified about communications with Perez, one of whom detailed how Perez called Muslims “towelheads.” An FBI agent took the stand and described hate-filled messages found on Perez’s Facebook account.
Testimony in court detailed how Perez had planned the event and talked about how he had done “recon” of the mosque in the days leading up to the fire. A witness who was with Perez on the night of the fire described how excited Perez was upon seeing the mosque in flames, explaining that he was “jumping up and down like a little kid.”
Additional evidence also revealed that items taken during two burglaries at the mosque were found at his home as was an improvised bomb similar to what was used in an attempted car-bombing approximately two weeks prior to the fire.
The jury also heard from an arson expert who concluded the fire was the result of an “intentional application of an open flame.”
The defense attempted to shift the blame to a juvenile cooperator and tried to challenge the validity of the evidence and expert testimony. He also tried to establish an alibi. The jury was not convinced of any of the claims and found him guilty on all counts as charged following the five-day trial and approximately three hours of deliberation.
Perez faces up to 20 years in federal prison for the hate crime and up to 10 years for possessing an unregistered destructive device. For use of a fire to commit a felony, the penalty is a consecutive and mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison. All of the counts also carry a potential $250,000 fine. Sentencing has been set for Oct. 2, 2018.
He has been and will remain in custody pending that hearing.
ATF and FBI conducted the investigation along with the City of Victoria Fire Marshal’s Office, Victoria Fire Department, Victoria Police Department, Texas Department of Public Safety - Criminal Investigations Division and Texas Rangers with assistance of Texas State Fire Marshal’s Office and sheriff’s offices in Victoria and Nueces Counties.
AUSAs Khandelwal and Kate Suh are prosecuting the case along with Trial Attorney Saeed Mody of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.