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The church in Springfield which was gutted by fire on the night of the US presidential elections in 2008 The Associated Press
US

African-American church 'burned down by racists upset by Obama win'

US court hears that three men committed arson because they were angry when Barack Obama became President.

A COURT IN the US has been told that three men burned down a predominantly African-American church because they were “racists” who were upset when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008.

Assistant US Attorney Paul Smyth gave his opening argument on the first day of the trial of Michael Jacques, 26, in US District Court in Springfield, Massachussetts. He told the jury:

We are here today because of racism. We are here today because of the depth of their intolerance.

Jacques and two co-defendants, Benjamin Haskell and Thomas Gleason, were charged with using gasoline to set the Macedonia Church of God in Christ in Springfield on fire in the early morning hours of November 5, 2008. The building was under construction at the time. A few firefighters were injured, but recovered.

Authorities say all three men, who are white, confessed to setting the fire. Haskell, 24, of Springfield, pleaded guilty to civil rights charges and was sentenced in November to nine years in prison. Gleason, 23, who lives on the same street as the church, pleaded guilty last year, awaits sentencing and will be testifying against Jacques.

Smyth told jurors that all three men confessed during videotaped interviews and there is also incriminating audio recordings.

Jacques lawyer, Lori Levinson, told the jury that there is no physical evidence against her client and that authorities coerced him into confessing during a grueling seven-hour interrogation during which he suffered withdrawal from addictions to Percocet and cigarettes. Levinson said:

You will learn that getting his next dose of his drug of addiction is what became the most important thing in the world … and he would say anything.

Levinson and Smyth showed the jury parts of the videotaped confession, during which Jacques’ foot is shaking and he’s twiddling his thumbs as a state police investigator interviews him.

Levinson described Haskell as a bragger who made up stories to make himself look tough. She also said Haskell also was pressured by authorities into confessing.

Levinson noted that Gleason pleaded guilty and will testify against Jacques. She asked the jury to consider what kind of deal Gleason made with prosecutors in exchange for his testimony.

Smyth said Jacques and his friends frequently used racial epithets to describe blacks. The prosecutor said Jacques and Haskell trained a dog to “get” black people, and Jacques was upset that his sister was having a baby with her African-American boyfriend and didn’t want a black child in his house.

Jacques could face up to 60 years in prison if convicted of conspiracy against civil rights, damage to religious property and other charges.

-AP

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