Michael Jacques, accused of torching mostly black Springfield church following President Obama’s election, insists he’s not racist

| September 20, 2010

SPRINGFIELD – Two other white defendants in the Macedonia Church of God in Christ arson case might be racists who resented a black man being elected president, said Michael F. Jacques, but he assured state investigators that he was not.

His only objection to Barack Obama’s victory was the man’s position on welfare, Jacques testified during a videotaped January 2009 interrogation played in U.S. District Court Friday.

“I heard he was going to cut welfare,” the 25-year-old defendant said, adding that one of his friends depended on government checks to survive.

Jacques limited grasp of the Obama presidency emerged during a seven-hour interrogation that his defense lawyer, Lori Levinson, of Great Barrington, is trying to get throw out before trial. The other defendants – Benjamin F. Haskell and Thomas J. Gleason, both 22 and from Springfield – have pleaded guilty to setting the fire several hours after Obama election night triumph on Nov. 4, 2008.

Jacques faces a minimum 10-year prison sentence if convicted of committing a hate crime and a federal felony of using arson for burning down the church while it was still under construction on Tinkham Road.

During the second day of hearings, Levinson and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin O’Regan highlighted different elements of the marathon session while arguing about whether Judge Michael A. Ponsor should allow it as evidence at trial.

Under questioning from O’Regan, state trooper Michael S. Mazza repeatedly noted that Jacques was lucid and focused during the Jan. 15 interview that eventually resulted in a confession. The image of Jacques, slumped in a chair, a wool hat pulled down nearly to his eyes, remained on the court television screen during most of Friday’s session.

During the interrogation, Jacques denies any role in the arson, then admits to participating after learning that Haskell has confessed and implicated him.

Initially, Jacques said he did not know that the $2.5 million church would serve a predominately black parish. But later, Jacques said the Gleason was angry because a church with a black congregation was being built close to his house.

“He didn’t want to hear all that gospel music,” Jacques said.

Haskell also made racial comments, and embraced a “red neck” lifestyle, Jacques said.

Jacques himself denied harboring any ill will toward blacks, pointing out that one of his relatives had married a black man. But he admitted using racial slurs against blacks, while denying they reflected any prejudice.

“I’m not a racist at all,” he explained.

Levinson pressed Mazza about the length of the interview, and whether he recognized any symptoms that her client was suffering from drug withdrawal.

She noted that Jacques never managed to call to his mother, even though he mentioned that he wanted to make a phone call. On the tape, Mazza told Jacques he could make the call, but asked him to answer a few more questions first.

Mazza also acknowledged that he never told Jacques that he was free to leave at any time, though he did read the defendant his Miranda Rights.

Testimony in the hearing will resume on Oct. 4.

 

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