WASHINGTON-- A federal grand jury in the District of Massachusetts has charged Michael Jacques and Thomas Gleason of Springfield, Mass., in a three-count superseding indictment in relation to the arson of a church, the Justice Department announced.
The superseding indictment alleges that in the early morning of Nov. 5, 2008, within hours of Barack Obama being elected President of the United States, Jacques, 25, and Gleason, 22, agreed to burn and succeeded in burning the Macedonia Church of God in Christ, a predominantly African-American church in Springfield.
Jacques and Gleason were originally charged on Jan. 27, 2009, with conspiring to interfere with the civil rights of the parishioners of the church. The superceding indictment's two additional counts allege Jacques and Gleason damaged religious property because of the race, color or ethnic characteristics of individuals associated with that religious property, and used fire to commit a felony.
"The freedom to practice the religion that we choose in a safe environment without being subjected to discrimination or hateful acts is among our nation's most cherished rights," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. "Anyone who violates that right will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
"This senseless church burning victimized and traumatized a congregation and the larger Springfield community," said U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz. "Any desecration of a place of worship is a despicable crime, reaching to a deeply felt American tenet, freedom of religion. Incidents of this type illustrate the challenges we still face to protect our civil rights."
The building was 75 percent completed at the time of the fire, which destroyed the entire structure leaving only the metal superstructure and a small portion of the front corner intact. Investigators determined the fire to be incendiary in nature and caused by an unknown quantity of gasoline applied to the exterior and interior of the building. Some of the responding firefighters suffered injuries as they worked to extinguish the blaze.
If convicted, the defendants face up to 10 years in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release on the conspiracy charge; 40 years in prison for the damage to religious property charge; and a mandatory 10 year sentence with up to five years of supervised release for the use of fire to commit a felony.
The case was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the FBI; the Massachusetts State Police; the Hampden County, Mass., District Attorney's Office and the Springfield Police Department. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Paul H. Smyth and Kevin O'Regan of the District of Massachusetts; and Nicole Lee Ndumele, a Trial Attorney in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.
The details contained in the indictment are allegations. The defendants are presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.