Man Sentenced in Post-2008 Obama Election Church Arson

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Michael Jacques of Springfield, Mass. was sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison for torching a predominantly Black church in Massachusetts in the wake of the 2008 election of President Obama.

“We weren’t vengeful. We placed our trust in the criminal justice system, and a decision has been rendered,” Bishop Bryant Robinson Jr., leader of the Macedonia Church of God in Christ, told the Boston Herald. “I had forgiven them personally, but I cannot be accepting of their behavior.”

On Nov. 5, 2008, the Springfield Fire Department responded to a report of fire at the Macedonia Church of God in Christ’s new building, which was 75 percent complete according to the complaint. The fire eventually destroyed the building.

Given how recent the election of Obama was, officials quickly made the determination that the fire was arson.

A witness told FBI investigators that Jacques and a co-conspirator, Benjamin Haskell, told him on Nov. 9, 2008 that they were the culprits of the fire after they drove by the charred remains of the church and laughed. The witness, who said he voted for Obama, asked why the two men burned down the church and Haskell responded “Because it was a Black church.”

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Those words proved to be damning as officials of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts said that they would not tolerate hate in their state.

“As evidenced in this case, hate crimes victimize not only individuals but entire communities,” said U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz in a statement. “We remain committed to protecting our communities from violence motivated by bigotry and prejudice, and ensuring that justice is served to victims.

He was found guilty by a federal jury April 14 after a criminal trial on charges of conspiracy against civil rights, destruction of religious property and use of fire to commit a felony.

In addition to the sentence, Jacques was given four years of probation and ordered to pay nearly $1.6 million in restitution with $123,570 of that going to Macedonia Church of God in Christ.

Haskell and a third conspirator Thomas Gleason pled guilty to the arson. Haskell was sentenced to nine years in prison and Gleason’s sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 18.

The church was rebuilt and dedicated in September.