Benjamin Haskell, Michael Jacques, suspects in torching of Macedonia Church of God in Christ in Springfield, now face charges for earlier fire

| October 5, 2009

SPRINGFIELD – Two of the three men charged in federal court for the torching of the Macedonia Church of God in Christ in November now face charges in state court for a 2003 fire on Woodlawn Road.

A grand jury in Hampden Superior Court last week returned indictments charging Benjamin F. Haskell, 22, and Michael F. Jacques, 24, both of Springfield, with “burning of a building” and “malicious injury to property” in connection with a Dec. 24, 2003, fire at a residence at 5 Woodlawn Road. There were no injuries.

Haskell also faces indictments by the same grand jury for charges of distribution of marijuana and violation of a drug-free school zone on Dec. 16 and distribution of oxycodone, violation of a drug-free school zone and illegal possession of ammunition on Dec. 23.

MFJacques.jpgMichael F. Jacques Two more charges of distribution of methadone and a school zone violation involve an incident on Jan. 2, and a final charge of illegal possession of ammunition carries a date of Jan. 14, according to the indictments that were returned on Wednesday.

No date is set for the arraignments. The men, who are free on bail in the federal case, will be summonsed to appear in the superior court.

In the Nov. 5 Macedonia Church fire, investigators said Haskell, Jacques and Thomas A. Gleason Jr., also of Springfield, admitted to an undercover state trooper that they crept through a window at the partially constructed church – whose congregation is predominantly black – and doused the building with gasoline, setting off a massive blaze.

Witnesses told the FBI the defendants said they set the fire in response to Barack Obama’s election as the nation’s first black president.

They were arrested in January after an undercover sting, which involved the defendants allegedly agreeing to burn down a commercial building in Holyoke for a fee.

All denied the federal charges of civil rights violations in connection with the fire. The charge carries a 10-year mandatory prison sentence.

The drug and ammunition charges for Haskell in state court appear to have happened at the time he was being investigated for the church fire. The federal charges were not leveled against the three until late January.

Assistant District Attorney James R. Goodhines refused to discuss the charges until Haskell is arraigned in the superior court.

At the time of the men’s arraignment in the federal case, police said local and state arson investigators were probing two additional fires, including the 2003 Woodlawn Road blaze.

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Category: Church Security

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