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June 23, 10

NEWS / Second Defendant in Springfield, Massachusetts, Church Arson Pleads Guilty

WASHINGTON- The Justice Department today announced that Thomas Gleason, 22, of Springfield, Mass., pleaded guilty to three crimes related to the burning of the Macedonia Church of God in Christ, a predominantly African-American church, in Springfield on the morning after President Barack Obama was elected as the first African-American President of the United States.

The superseding indictment charges that in the early morning hours of Nov. 5, 2008, within hours of Obama being elected President, Gleason and his co-conspirators agreed to burn and succeeded in burning the Macedonia Church of God in Christís newly-constructed building where religious services were to be held. The building was nearly completed at the time of the fire, which destroyed the entire structure, leaving only the metal superstructure and a small portion of the front corner intact. Investigators determined the fire to be incendiary in nature and caused by an unknown quantity of gasoline applied to the exterior and interior of the building.

Prior to the Nov. 4, 2008 presidential election, Gleason and his co-conspirators used racial slurs against African-Americans and expressed anger about the possible election of Obama as the first African-American President. On Nov. 4, 2008, Gleason and his co-conspirators agreed to retaliate against the election by burning the new church because the church members, congregation and Bishop were African-American.

Gleason damaged religious property and obstructed the free exercise of religion because of the race, color or ethnic characteristics of any individual associated with that religious property. Gleason conspired to injure, oppress, threaten and intimidate the parishioners of the Macedonia Church of God in Christ in the free exercise or enjoyment of the right to hold and use real property, a right which is secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States.
"The freedom to practice the religion that we choose in a safe environment without being subjected to discrimination or hateful acts is a fundamental right to which every individual is entitled, " said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Justice Departmentís Civil Rights Division. " Anyone who violates that right will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. "

"As the second defendant in this disturbing case pleads guilty, I hope it sends a strong message that hate crimes are taken very seriously in Massachusetts," said U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz.

Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 1, 2010.

The case was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; FBI; Massachusetts State Police; Hampden County District Attorneyís Office and the Springfield Police Department. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Paul H. Smyth and Kevin OíRegan and Nicole Lee Ndumele, Trial Attorney in the Department of Justiceís Civil Rights Division.




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