Second man to admit guilt in Springfield church arson linked to Obama election

| June 21, 2010

Six days after a co-conspirator pleaded guilty to similar charges, a Springfield man is expected to admit in federal court tomorrow that he helped torch a predominantly black church in November 2008, a crime authorities said stemmed from racial anger over Barack Obama's election hours earlier.

Thomas Gleason Jr., 22, whose trial was scheduled to start this week, plans to change his plea today at 10 a.m. in US District Court in Springfield, according to a notice of a hearing filed with the court.

Gleason's lawyer, Mark J. Albano, of Springfield, and a spokeswoman for US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz, declined to provide details on Gleason's expected plea change.

Gleason was one of three Springfield men charged with pouring gasoline inside and outside the Macedonia Church of God in Christ in the early morning of Nov. 5, 2008, and setting the building ablaze. The church was under construction and nearly three-fourths completed when the fire all but destroyed it.

Last Wednesday, one of the other men, Benjamin Haskell, 23, pleaded guilty to two federal charges — conspiring to deny the civil rights of members of the church and damaging a religious property.

As part of a plea agreement, Haskell — who allegedly confessed to investigators and then cooperated with them — faces at least nine years in prison.

Gleason and the third defendant, Michael Jacques, 25, were both indicted on an additional charge of use of fire to commit a felony. That carries a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years in prison.

Prosecutors say that the three men had used racial slurs against African-Americans and vented anger over the possibility that Obama could become the first black president.

After Obama won, they decided to retaliate by targeting the church, which has about 300 members, prosecutors said. They walked through the woods behind Gleason's house to the back of the church late on Nov. 4, 2008, first to inspect the building.

The fire started around 3:10 a.m., caused an estimated $2 million in damage and sent two firefighters to local hospitals for treatment of injuries.

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Category: Church Security

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