White man gets 9 years for burning down an African-American church

A white man was sentenced today to nine years in prison for burning down a predominately African-American church in Springfield, Mass., the day after Barack Obama won the presidential election.

Benjamin Haskell, 24, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Michael A. Ponsor in Springfield for the 2008 burning of the Macedonia Church of God in Christ. The predominately African-American church was under construction and 75 percent complete when it was torched, the Justice Department said.

In addition to the prison term, Haskell must pay a $7,500 fine and $1.7 million in restitution, including $123,570.25 to the Macedonia Church.

“The burning of the Macedonia Church because of racial hatred and intolerance was a vicious attack on one of our most cherished freedoms — to worship in the religion of our choice safely and without fear of discrimination,” Carmen Ortiz, U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said in a statement.

“The successful investigation, prosecution and punishment of those who committed this hateful act is a clear statement that law enforcement will do all in its power to protect our citizens’ civil rights,” Ortiz said.

Haskell was one of three white men charged in the arson. Thomas Gleason Jr. is awaiting sentencing, and Michael Jacques is awaiting trial.

Earlier this year, Haskell, of Springfield, pleaded guilty to a host of charges including conspiring to injure, oppress, threaten and intimidate the mostly African-American parishioners of the Macedonia Church in the free exercise of the right to hold and use their new church building, the Justice Department said.

Authorities said that on Nov. 5, 2008, Haskell and two other men burned down the church in the early morning hours by first pouring gasoline inside and outside of the structure. Haskell later confessed to the crime and admitted that before the election he and his co-conspirators used racial slurs against African-Americans and expressed anger over the prospect of Obama becoming president.

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