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Press Release

Olympia, Washington man indicted for hate crimes for arsons at Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Halls

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Washington
Defendant already in custody for firearms offenses

Seattle – A 50-year-old Olympia, Washington man was indicted late yesterday by a federal grand jury for three arsons that damaged or destroyed Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Halls, announce U.S. Attorney Nick Brown.  Mikey Diamond Starrett, aka Michael Jason Layes, was charged in a superseding indictment with three counts of damage to religious property, including the use of fire, and three counts of using fire to commit a federal felony.  Layes will be arraigned on the indictment next week.

“As DOJ noted this week, we are putting a priority on prosecuting hate crimes,” said U.S. Attorney Brown. “We continue to work closely with our faith communities so that they have the most current information on how to protect places of worship.”

According to the superseding indictment, the defendant allegedly set fire to Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Halls on three occasions: the Kingdom Hall of Tumwater, Washington on March 19, 2018; the Kingdom Hall of Olympia, Washington on March 19, 2018; and the Kingdom Hall of Olympia, Washington on July 3, 2018.  The superseding indictment alleges the defendant defaced, damaged, and destroyed religious real property at the Kingdom Halls because of the religious character of the properties.

Fire destroys Olympia Jehovah's Witness Hall
Fire destroys Olympia Jehovah's Witness Hall on July 3, 2018

“Our criminal investigators have been working tirelessly on these attacks since they began in 2018,” said ATF Seattle Field Division Special Agent in Charge Jonathan T. McPherson. “We hope this indictment helps calm the fears of those in the Pierce and Thurston county areas through the knowledge that Layes is being prosecuted for his alleged crimes.”

Layes was previously charged with one count of damage to religious property, including the use of a dangerous weapon, and one count of use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, in connection with a shooting that damaged a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall in Yelm, Washington, on May 15, 2018.  The defendant was also previously charged with one count of unlawful possession of an unregistered firearm. Layes has been in federal custody since his arrest on September 8, 2021.

If convicted, the defendant faces a sentence of up to 20 years in prison on each charge of damage to religious property.  The defendant faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted on the unlawful possession of an unregistered firearm charge. If convicted, the defendant faces at least 10 years in prison to run consecutive to any sentence imposed for each of the remaining offenses.

The charges contained in the indictment are only allegations.  A person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

The case is being investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF) Seattle Field Division, the FBI, the Tumwater, Washington Police Department, and the Olympia, Washington Police Department.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Rebecca S. Cohen for the Western District of Washington and Trial Attorney Matthew Tannenbaum for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  Ms. Cohen serves as the Civil Rights Coordinator for the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Criminal Division.

For more information and resources about DOJ’s work to combat hate crimes, visit www.justice.gov/hatecrimes.

Contact

For interviews about this matter please contact ATF Public Information Officer Jason Chudy at (206) 573-7493. Or Emily Langlie for the U.S. Attorney’s office at (206) 553-4110 or Emily.Langlie@usdoj.gov.

Updated December 14, 2022

Topics
Violent Crime
Civil Rights
Hate Crimes
Firearms Offenses