Three Springfield, Massachusetts men were charged in Federal Court with a civil rights violation stemming from an arson purportedly committed on November 5, 2008. Authorities stated the men poured gasoline inside and outside the church and set fire to the structure “because it was a black church”. The act took place hours after the presidential election. The men were detained pending a hearing and on January 21, 2009 all were released subject to specified conditions. The fire caused an estimated two million dollars to the church.
The investigation into this crime took just over two months to complete. It was conducted by Massachusetts State Police, the Springfield Police, the FBI, the ATF, the United States Attorney’s office, the state fire marshal and the Hampden County District Attorney’s office. According to reports one of the defendants boasted about having committed the crime and in doing so attributed the actions of the three to hate. Arson was not charged as one of the crimes. It was reported that on November 9, 2008 police received information from an informant who stated that two of the perpetrators bragged about having set the fire. In January of this year an undercover officer solicited one of the defendants to set a fire for insurance money. In the course of discussions one of the defendants boasted about having burned down the church as well as several arsons that he supposedly committed.
Read Full Article, Boston Globe, January 17, 2009
See also United States Attorney Press Release, January 16, 2009
It appears that right now all defendants are charged with violating 18 U.S.C. Section 241 which states that “If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same” that person can be punished by up to 10 years in prison.
For some reason not explained in the new reports the defendants were not charged with arson. Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 266 Section 2 makes the burning of a church a crime. The law states in part that anyone who willfully and maliciously burns a church can be sentenced to 10 years in prison if convicted. There is a federal arson statute that may not have had applicability to this case. See 18 U.S.C. Section 81.