Sunday, June 13, 2010

Racist Arsonist Agrees To Plead Guilty

Guilty Plea Expected in Mass. Black Church Arson
By MARK PRATT, Associated Press

BOSTON – One of the three white men who allegedly torched a predominantly black church in western Massachusetts because they were angry with President Barack Obama 's election has agreed to plead guilty, a person familiar with the investigation says.

Benjamin Haskell is scheduled to appear in federal court in Springfield on Wednesday for a change of plea hearing, according to federal court documents filed Friday.

Haskell , 23, of Springfield, had previously pleaded not guilty to conspiracy charges. A person informed of the plea change told The Associated Press that Haskell will plead guilty . The person asked not to be named ahead of the hearing.

Haskell's attorney and the U.S. Attorney's Office did not immediately return calls Friday.

Haskell was one of three men charged in connection with the fire that destroyed the Macedonia Church of God in Christ in Springfield in the early morning hours of Nov. 5, 2008, just hours after the presidential election . The church was under construction at the time, but almost complete. It had about 300 members, 90 percent of whom were black, according to federal authorities.

Thomas Gleason Jr., 22, and Michael Jacques, 25, have pleaded not guilty to charges of violating civil rights , damaging religious property because of race, color or ethnic characteristics, and using fire to commit a felony.

According to an FBI affidavit, investigators were led to the suspects by an informant they allegedly told they set the fire. They were arrested in mid-January.

When the informant asked Haskell why they did it, Haskell said "because it was a black church," according to the affidavit. Haskell also allegedly said he thought Obama would be assassinated.

The defendants allegedly told investigators they walked through the woods behind the church, got in through a side window and doused the inside and outside with about five gallons of gasoline. The fire left little more than a metal frame and resulted in minor injuries to three firefighters.

Lawyers for Jacques and Gleason tried to get their confessions thrown out as evidence, claiming they were scared and made false statements because law enforcement officials yelled at them and threatened them over several hours.

A federal judge denied that motion late last month.