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Burned Church Nears Completion as Suspect Found Guilty

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (RNS) As a white man surrendered to federal marshals Friday (April 15), workers were rebuilding the pulpit of the Macedonia Church of God in Christ that he was convicted of burning down the night of President Obama’s election.

Michael Jacques, 26, surrendered a day after a jury convicted him on civil rights and arson charges. Jacques expressed sympathy for parishioners of the Macedonia Church of God in Christ, whose $2.5 million church was burned to the ground several hours after Obama was elected the nation’s first black president.

“I’m sorry that that did happen,” Jacques told reporters outside the courthouse. “I obviously didn’t do it. My heart does go out to those people. But I am innocent, and I will appeal, and justice will prevail.”

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Along with two other white men, Jacques confessed a role in the gasoline-fed blaze that razed the church. Jacques later recanted, claiming investigators pressured him during a 6 1/2-hour interrogation.

The two other men — Benjamin F. Haskell and Thomas A. Gleason, both 24 of Springfield — pleaded guilty in June. Haskell was given a 9-year sentence; Gleason will be sentenced in October.

By the time Jacques is sentenced on Sept. 15, the new Macedonia Church of God in Christ will have been open for three months, if construction continues on schedule.

“We’re 90 percent finished, maybe 95 percent,” said James A. Tarrant, the church’s principal contractor, as he pounded nails into the pulpit area of the 18,000-square foot building.

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The rebuilt church’s exterior is completed, and most of the interior work — from installation of heating, air conditioning and sprinkler systems — is also done, Tarrant said.

By the time the church opens, Tarrant will have spent four years at the site, he said. “This is the longest project I’ve ever worked on,” he said.

The church’s pastor, Bishop Bryant Robinson, said the conviction marks the end of another chapter in the arson saga for his congregation.

“I’m pleased on one level that a jury of (Jacques’) peers determined he was material to this heinous crime,” Robinson said.

– JACK FLYNN, Religion News Service

(Jack Flynn writes for The Republican in Springfield, Mass.)

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