Springfield church arsonist Benjamin Haskell gets 6-year state sentence in plea deal judge initially balks at

| November 18, 2010

SPRINGFIELD – A plea deal designed to wrap up convicted church arsonist Benjamin F. Haskell’s remaining criminal cases nearly collapsed Tuesday after Judge Cornelius J. Moriarty expressed disgust at his litany of crimes.

“He’s a one-man crime wave,” said Moriarty, glaring at the 25-year-old defendant in Hampden Superior Court.

“He’s selling cocaine, he’s selling marijuana, he’s selling OxyContin, he’s selling heroin … and he’s burning down buildings in his spare time.”

After balking at the recommended six-year sentence, Moriarty left the bench to study the case file, returning an hour later to give the plea deal his reluctant blessing.

Noting that Haskell, a former auto body shop employee, is only 25, the judge said: “I hope he turns himself around.”

The sentencing came after Haskell, already serving a nine-year federal prison sentence for burning down the Macedonia Church of God in Christ to protest the election of Barack Obama, pleaded guilty to a 10-count state indictment. The church congregants are primarily black.

Handcuffed and shackled, Haskell – wearing a sweatshirt and jeans, not his federal prison uniform – answered “guilty” as each count was read by the court clerk.

The charges – including heroin and cocaine distribution, and burning down an unoccupied house in Sixteen Acres in 2003 – emerged from tape-recorded conversations made by an undercover state trooper in the early stage of the church arson investigation.

The six-year state sentence will run concurrently with Haskell’s federal prison term, meaning he will serve no extra time due to the state charges.

Assistant District Attorney James R. Goodhines said exceptional work by state police and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms helped solve the high-profile case and bring charges against three Springfield men for the church burning.

Noting that a confidential informant introduced Haskell to the undercover state trooper, Goodhines said the case illustrates “just how important (confidential informants) can be getting convictions in difficult cases.”

Haskell pleaded guilty in June to a federal civil rights violation and destroying religious property. Besides the nine-year prison term, he must pay a share of $1.7 million in restitution and serve five years of supervised release.

His lawyer, Bernard T. O’Connor Jr., attributed much of Haskell’s behavior to his dependence on narcotic painkillers. As part of his sentence, Haskell must undergo treatment for substance abuse.

A second defendant, Thomas A. Gleason Jr., 25, has pleaded guilty in the church arson case, while Michael F. Jacques, 25, is awaiting trial.



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