WASHINGTON –Michael Jacques, 26, of Springfield, Mass., was found guilty by a federal jury of three crimes related to the burning of a predominantly African-American church in Springfield on the morning after Barack Obama was elected as the first African-American President of the United States, the Justice Department announced today.
Evidence at trial established that in the early morning hours of Nov. 5, 2008, within hours of Obama being elected president, Jacques and his co-conspirators agreed to burn and succeeded in burning the newly-constructed Macedonia Church of God in Christ’s building where religious services were to be held. The building was nearly 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.
Prior to the Nov. 4, 2008 presidential election, Jacques and his co-conspirators used racial slurs against African-Americans and expressed anger about the possible election of Obama as the first African-American President. On Nov. 4, 2008, Jacques and his co-conspirators agreed to retaliate against the election by burning the new church because the church members, congregation and bishop were African-American.
Jacques was convicted of damaging religious property and obstructing the free exercise of religion because of the race, color or ethnic characteristics of any individual associated with that religious property. Jacques was also convicted of conspiring to injure, oppress, threaten and intimidate the parishioners of the church in the free exercise or enjoyment of the right to hold and use real property, a right which is secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and for using fire in the course of a federal felony.
“Hateful acts of violence of this kind will not be tolerated in our country,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The department will continue to vigorously prosecute hate crimes against all individuals.”
“This was a very serious case that affected the lives of hundreds of parishioners at the Macedonia Church of God in Christ. When I met with Bishop Bryant Robinson it was clear to me how much damage was inflicted on his community by this horrible act. It was not necessarily about the physical structure that was burned, it was about symbolic and personal nature of the crime”, said U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Carmen M. Ortiz. “We are very pleased with the jury’s verdict and want to reaffirm our commitment to defend our most fundamental rights, stemming the tide of hatred and discrimination.”
Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 15, 2011.
Two other co-conspirators, Thomas Gleason and Benjamin Haskell, have previously pleaded guilty for their role in the offenses. Haskell was sentenced to nine years in prison and three years of supervised release.
The case was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; FBI; Massachusetts State Police; Hampden County District Attorney’s Office and the Springfield Police Department. It was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Paul H. Smyth and Kevin O’Regan and Nicole Lee Ndumele, Trial Attorney in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.