Beliefnet News

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (RNS) Jurors were urged Monday (April 11) to weigh the overwhelming evidence against a white man who is charged with a federal hate crime for allegedly torching a black church on the evening of President Obama’s election.

Michael F. Jacques is the only one of three accomplices to stand trial for the Nov. 5, 2008 fire that destroyed the Macedonia Church of God in Christ.

“The time has come to hold him accountable,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicole Lee Ndumele said in closing arguments. Jacques and two accomplices had “racism in their hearts and gasoline in their hands,” Ndumele said.

Defense lawyer Lori H. Levinson acknowledged that Jacques, 26, had exhibited “bozo”-like behavior at times, including using racial slurs and bragging about crimes he never committed.

But her client was neither a racist nor a church arsonist, Levinson said.

Hobbled by a lack of physical evidence, conflicting witness statements and a coerced confession from her client, prosecutors fell short of establishing Jacques’ guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the defense lawyer said.

“There are many reasonable doubts,” she said.

Jacques is charged with conspiracy to violate civil rights, a federal hate crime; destruction of religious property; using fire to commit a felony; and aiding and abetting.

The two other men — Benjamin F. Haskell and Thomas A. Gleason — pleaded guilty in June to setting the fire. Haskell was sentenced to nine years; Gleason will be sentenced in October. If convicted, Jacques faces a minimum of 10 years in prison.

– JACK FLYNN, Religion News Service

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

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