Man Convicted in Racially Motivated Church Burning After Election
April 14, 2011
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- A 26-year-old white man was convicted Thursday in what prosecutors said was the racially motived burning of a predominantly black church in the hours after Barack Obama was elected president in 2008.
An all-white, 12-member jury found Michael Jacques guilty of all the charges he faced in the burning of Macedonia Church of God in Christ in Springfield.
Prosecutors portrayed Jacques and two friends who pleaded guilty as racists who were upset at the election of the nation's first African-American president.
Jacques, his lawyer and family said he is not racist and only confessed during a police interrogation because he suffered withdrawal from painkillers.
Prosecutors had said during closing arguments that Jacques' racism reached the "boiling point" when Obama was elected. They said he often used racial epithets, expressed anger that minorities were "taking over" the country and once set a dog on a black person.
Jacques was convicted of conspiracy against civil rights, damage to religious property and use of fire to commit a felony.
"They got it all wrong," Jacques said outside court after the verdict was returned.
His attorney, Lori Levinson, said, "We are very disappointed. We will be appealing."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Smyth said he was pleased with the jury's verdict. Smyth said when the church was burning on Nov. 5, 2008, law enforcement officials hoped it was not arson. "In the few days that followed, our worst fears were confirmed," he said.
Smyth said the government was pleased that all three men had been convicted, two by pleading guilty. Benjamin Haskell was sentenced to nine years in prison in November. Thomas Gleason pleaded guilty last year and awaits sentencing after testifying in Jacques' trial for the prosecution. Both implicated Jacques in the arson.
Jacques could face 10 to 60 years in prison. Smyth said federal sentencing guidelines call for a prison term closer to 15 years, but he said it is too early to say what prosecutors will recommend.
Judge Michael Ponsor revoked Jacques' bail and ordered him to report Friday for detention until sentencing Sept. 15.