East Side church bomber gets 6 1/2 years in prison

| July 9, 2010

An East Side man who tried to blow up a black church in a drunken rage was sentenced Wednesday to 6½ years in federal prison by U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara.

While alcoholism and mental illness might have figured in the crime, the actions of Richard M. Blonski cannot be excused, Arcara said.

"We as a society cannot ever, ever tolerate this kind of activity," the judge said.

Blonski, 29, of Jones Street, admitted that he tried to ignite a pipe bomb July 4, 2009, in Redeeming Fire Fellowship Church on Lewis Street. The congregation consists largely of African-Americans.

Other than Blonski, no one was in the church at the time, and because Blonski is "an incompetent bombmaker," the device did not explode, a prosecutor said.

Blonski, who is white, is not a racist and has African-Americans in his family, said his attorney, Roxanne Mendez Johnson of the Federal Public Defenders Office.

He was extremely drunk and had been spending some time with people who were making racist comments before he decided to bomb the church, Mendez Johnson said.

She said Blonski, who has a girlfriend and two young children, has wrestled with mental illness since he was 12.

"I am truly sorry," Blonski said. "Every night, I go to sleep and think about what I've done [and] if I'll ever be forgiven."

"We consider this a hate crime, and we believe the church was targeted because of the ethnicity of the people who worship there," Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard P. Maigret said. "There are plenty of people out there who might have an alcohol problem or some emotional problems who don't throw a firebomb at a church."

Investigators from the FBI, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives and the Buffalo Fire Marshals Office arrested Blonski two days after the bombing attempt. While investigators say they believe the crime had racial motivations, they found no evidence that Blonski was a member of any kind of hate group, Maigret said.

In March, Blonski pleaded guilty to felony crimes of attempted arson, bombmaking and a civil rights crime of targeting a church based on racial considerations.

Shortly after his arrest, Blonski told police he had consumed a huge quantity of whiskey and "a bunch of beers" before deciding to bomb the church.

The Rev. D. Allen Keaten and other members have been "remarkably forgiving" of Blonski's actions, Maigret said.

Arcara said he sentenced Blonski at the high end of advisory sentencing guidelines because the crime shocked and upset African-Americans in Buffalo, hearkening back to vicious hate crimes of the Ku Klux Klan in the South.

"Fortunately, nobody was hurt," Arcara said. "This activity struck fear into not just that congregation, but the entire community."



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Category: Church Security

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