Steven Scott Cantrell, 26, of Crane, Texas, will be put behind bars for hate crime charges stemming from a series of racially-motivated arsons in December 2010, including the arson of a historic African-American church as part of an effort to murder a disabled African-American man.

Cantrell was sentenced to 450 months in prison by U.S. District Judge Robert A. Junell in Midland, Texas, after pleading guilty to damaging religious property and interfering with housing rights in violation of federal hate crime laws.  Cantrell was also ordered to pay $550,780 in restitution to the victims.

The November 30 sentencing “reflects the vile nature of this defendant’s actions.  Every person, regardless of race, national origin, religion or disability, should have the opportunity to live without fear of threat or harm,” Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, said in a statement.  “The department will continue to vigorously prosecute those that commit heinous acts like this one.”

Cantrell admitted that on Dec. 28, 2010, he set fire to Faith in Christ Church, a predominantly African-American church, as part of an effort to murder a disabled African-American man who he saw passing by the church in his wheelchair.  Cantrell admitted that he started the fire intending to kill the disabled African-American man whom he believed lived at a shelter within the church.  The man was not hurt.

Cantrell, according to the U.S. Justice Department, ransacked the church, wrote a series of threatening and racist messages in large letters across the wall of the church next to the pastor’s office, and “tagged” the church with references to the Aryan Brotherhood.

The arson of Faith in Christ Church was part of a series of racially-motivated arsons that Cantrell perpetrated that day in his attempt to gain status with the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas.

“When hatred and bigotry are expressed through acts of violence and destruction, this office will use every resource available to ensure that those responsible are found, prosecuted and punished,” said U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas Robert Pitman.  “There is simply no room in a civilized society for the kind of conduct Cantrell engaged in.”