Mass. man gets 14 years for Obama-inspired fire

AP News
Posted: Dec 22, 2011 3:59 PM
Mass. man gets 14 years for Obama-inspired fire

A white man convicted of burning down a predominantly black church because he was angry about President Barack Obama's election was sentenced Thursday to nearly 14 years in prison.

Michael Jacques was convicted in April of various charges in connection with the fire, including conspiracy against civil rights and damage or destruction of religious property. He was sentenced Thursday to 13 years and 10 months in federal prison.

A federal judge also ordered the 27-year-old Jacques to pay nearly $1.6 million in restitution to the church and its insurance company.

Prosecutors say Jacques and two friends burned down the Macedonia Church of God in Christ in Springfield the night of Obama's 2008 election in an act of racism. Jacques has said he was at his parents' house that night.

Benjamin Haskell and Thomas Gleason pleaded guilty to the civil rights charges. Haskell was sentenced to nine years in prison. Gleason is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 18.

Prosecutors said the men burned down the church on Nov. 5, 2008, hours after Obama was elected as the nation's first black president. The church was under construction at the time of the fire and no one was inside. A few firefighters suffered minor injuries fighting the blaze.

Prosecutors said all three men confessed to the crime and implicated each other. But Jacques later recanted, saying authorities wore him down during a long interrogation as he suffered withdrawal from addictions to Percocet painkillers and cigarettes.

During closing arguments at Jacques' trial, prosecutors said his racism reached the "boiling point" when Obama was elected. They said he often used racial epithets and expressed anger that minorities were taking over the country.

Jacques' attorney, Lori Levinson, called the sentence "extraordinarily heavy" and said Jacques plans to appeal.

"He continues to maintain his innocence," Levinson said.

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said in a statement that she hopes the sentence "sends a strong message that we will bring all of our resources to bear in order to protect the civil liberties of every citizen."