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Thu, 12.22.2011

White Hate Crime Arsonist is Convicted

Michael Jacques

*On this date in 2011, a white-American man was convicted of burning down a Black church. His motive was to condemn Barack Obama's election as America's first Black president in November 2008.

Michael Jacques, 27, was sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison. The arson fire was set on November 5, 2008, just hours after election results were announced, destroying the nearly-finished Macedonia Church of God in Christ in Springfield, Massachusetts, about 90 miles west of Boston. Prosecutors alleged in a three-week trial in the spring of 2011 that Jacques, 27, of Springfield, and two white friends were motivated by racial resentment when they doused the building with gasoline and torched it.

The church's congregation was about 90 percent African American and authorities said the white men wanted to denounce Obama's victory earlier that night. Judge Michael Ponsor in U.S. District Court in Springfield sentenced Jacques to 166 months in federal prison for his role in the hate crime, Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Smyth, the lead prosecutor in the case. Jacques had faced between 10 and 60 years in prison. The prison term is to be followed by four years of supervised release. Jacques was also ordered to pay nearly $1.6 million in restitution, including $123,570, to the church.

No worshipers were inside the building at the time of the fire. The rebuilt church reopened to worshipers in September. In the days immediately after the blaze, the FBI briefed the President-elect and the U.S. Attorney General about the arson. U.S. authorities said the hate crime was the only one of its kind on election night. On April 14, 2011, a jury convicted Jacques of conspiracy to violate American Civil Rights, religious property damage because of race, and damage to religious property by use of fire.

Two other men charged in the hate crime, Benjamin Haskell and Thomas Gleason, have already pleaded guilty to similar charges. Haskell was sentenced in November 2010 to nine years in federal prison, and Gleason, who testified for the prosecution in the trial, will be sentenced in January 2012. Jacques tried unsuccessfully to have his confession thrown out before trial. He argued that state police and the FBI had falsely obtained it during a more than six-hour interview while he was suffering from withdrawal from nicotine and a pain-killer.


Zach Howard.
Editing by Lauren Keiper and Greg McCune

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