Man gets 10 years for arson at church

| October 20, 2009

A 39-year-old Palestine man accused of setting fire to a local church earlier this year has been sentenced to 10 years in prison by a local state district judge.

Scott Steven Davis, 39, of Palestine was sentenced to 10 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice by Third State District Judge Mark Calhoon on Oct. 2 after pleading guilty to an arson at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints building at 4400 N. Loop 256.

Davis had pled guilty to the first-degree felony offense one week earlier.

Authorities say Davis set fire to the pew where he and his estranged wife normally sat on March 30 because he was upset at church leaders based on his belief they had sided with her in their relationship.

Water from the church’s sprinkler system and smoke from the fire caused more than $100,000 in damage to the church, according to Anderson County District Attorney Doug Lowe.

The fire caused little structural damage to the church.

Palestine firefighters responded to the church around 5:30 p.m. on March 30 after the fire triggered an alarm. Upon their arrival, firefighters discovered water pouring from the church doors, according to authorities.

The fire had been extinguished by the church’s sprinkler system, authorities have said.

An investigation conducted by Palestine Fire Marshal Alan Wilcher concluded that Davis lit a wad of paper towels, likely taken from the church kitchen, in an effort to set the pew on fire, according to Lowe.

The district attorney said Davis had also turned on all the electric stove burners in the building’s kitchen in an apparent attempt to burn down the church.

Authorities say Davis gained entry into the building by breaking out a window.

“The morning of the fire Mr. Davis had called or texted her (his estranged wife) at least 35 times in an attempt to coerce her into continuing marital relations,” Wilcher said. “When she refused, he threatened to get her fired from her job with TDCJ.

“Mr. Davis then proceeded to place signs around her place of work with her phone number advertising sexual favors,” Wilcher continued. “He also broke into the former family home and destroyed furniture and belongings.”

Witnesses reported seeing a man matching Davis’ description walking away from the church shortly after the fire alarm was triggered. Video footage of Davis at a nearby convenience store shortly before the fire was also discovered by investigators.

Authorities also discovered phone records showing Davis had called his parents from a phone inside the closed church just prior to the fire, according to Lowe.

As a condition of any parole, Davis was ordered to pay $106,000 restitution to the church. His prison inmate trust account can be garnished for restitution payments, according to Lowe.

Anderson County assistant district attorneys Scott Holden and Elizabeth Watkins represented the state in the case, while investigator Aneshia Bridges also provided assistance.

Davis was represented by private attorney David Cervantes.

Arson is typically a second-degree felony, but was enhanced to first-degree felony status since the offense involved a church.

First-degree felonies are punishable by five-to-99 years or life in prison and a fine not to exceed $10,000.

Based on being a previously-convicted felon, Davis was ineligible for probation in the case, having served one year in military prison for possession of child pornography.
Local authorities also say Davis had failed to register in Anderson County as a sex offender as required by law.

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Category: Church Security

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