Man to Plead Guilty to Involvement in ’08 Springfield, Massachusetts Church Burning

Benjamin F. Haskell, one of three white men who originally pleaded not guilty to conspiracy charges in a civil rights violation related to the burning of a predominantly black Springfield church, is scheduled to plead guilty during a change of plea hearing on Wednesday. It has not been revealed what charge he will plead guilty to is or whether there is a plea agreement involved.

Haskell, 23, Michael Jacques, 25, and Thomas Gleason Jr. 22, were charged in connection with a blaze that destroyed the Macedonia Church of God in Christ on November 5, 2008, just hours after President Obama was elected. All three men were arrested in January 2009 based on information provided by an informant.

The defendants allegedly confessed that they entered the church, which was under construction at the time, through a side window and used about five gallons of gas to douse the structure on the outside and the inside. Three firefighters sustained minor injuries as they attempted to put out the blaze.

Gleason and Jacques have pleaded not guilty to charges of damaging religious property because of race, color, or ethnic characteristics, civil rights violations, and using fire to commit a felony. Their criminal defense lawyer attempted to get their confessions tossed out as evidence on the grounds that law enforcement officials allegedly threatened and bullied the two men during hours of interrogation but a judge denied that motion. Haskell, who is facing lesser criminal charges, did not take part in the suppression hearings.

Guilty plea expected in Mass. black church arson, AP, June 13, 2010
Tipster led authorities to 3 men charged with setting Macedonia Church of God in Christ on fire hours after President Obama elected, court testimony indicates, MassLive, May 26, 2010

Related Web Resources:
Post-election church arson at predominantly black parish probed as possible hate crime, MassLive, November 5, 2008
Federal Crimes, Cornell University Law School
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