Churches are important religious symbols for many Mississippi communities, and seeing a church burn to the ground can be a truly disturbing sight. Unfortunately, churches are also common targets for arsonists. Whether these individuals wish to make political statements or simply engage in mischief, they face serious consequences for these crimes. But will the authorities charge higher penalties compared to the arson of less symbolic buildings, like offices or houses? What are the consequences of burning down a church in Mississippi, and how can you defend yourself if you have been charged with this crime?
Examples of Church Arson in Mississippi
On November 8th, it was reported that a manhunt was underway for a suspected arsonist who had set fires in two churches near Jackson. In total, the individual set seven fires during a short period of time. One of the churches burned to the ground, and a baseball diamond at Jackson State University was also damaged. Fortunately, no injuries were reported – although one of the church elders was severely traumatized after watching his religious center burn to the ground. The church that was destroyed had just been renovated earlier in the year. Initially, authorities offered a $5,000 reward for anyone with information that led to an arrest.
Just hours later, it was reported that a suspect had been arrested near Jackson State University in connection with the seven fires. Right away, it seemed like any hate crimes were unlikely as the suspect was black. Previously, some had theorized that this was a racially-motivated attack against black churches and universities. Police are still struggling to figure out the motive behind the fires, although they stated that the crimes were unrelated to the midterm elections. The suspect was initially charged with a single count of felony malicious mischief. It’s also worth mentioning that the suspect is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
This was not the first time churches had been targeted with arson attacks in Mississippi. Back in 2016, a church was burned in Greenville, and the attacker scrawled “Vote Trump” across the side of the building with spray paint. In a surprising turn of events, it was revealed that the culprit was actually a member of the same church. He was also black, so a hate crime charge was off the table. In fact, authorities initially suspected that the entire arson was a political stunt intended as an act of “misdirection.” The suspect was charged with arson of a place of worship.
In 2020, a church in Northern Mississippi was burned to the ground. It was clear that the attack was politically motivated, as the words “Bet you stay home now” were found spray-painted near the scene. Police then determined that the church was targeted for violating Covid-19 restrictions and allowing mass gatherings despite the state’s mandates. The church was also in the midst of a lawsuit against the city of Holly Springs for allegedly violating its constitutional right to free speech and its members’ rights to freedom of worship. It is unclear whether the suspects were ever apprehended.
Mississippi’s Laws Against Burning Churches
Mississippi has specific laws against burning churches. Anyone who burns a church, a temple, a synagogue, or any other “place of worship” may be charged with first-degree arson. This is true regardless of the extent of the damage. Even a small fire that is easily contained can result in first-degree arson charges if the target was a place of worship. You can also face first-degree arson charges if you simply encourage someone else to burn a church or aid someone in any way as they attempt to carry out this crime. If you are convicted of first-degree arson, you will face a minimum of five years in prison and a maximum of 30 years in prison. You will also be ordered to pay restitution for the damage you have caused.
Where Can I Find a Qualified Criminal Defense Attorney in Mississippi?
If you have been searching for a qualified, experienced criminal defense attorney in Mississippi, look no further than Vic Carmody Jr., P.A. Over the years, we have helped numerous defendants in the Magnolia State – including those who have been charged with arson. We know that facing these charges can be an incredibly daunting experience – but you are not in this alone. One of your most important rights as an American citizen is your right to an attorney. Be sure to choose the best attorney you can find, and your criminal consequences might not be as serious as you initially thought. Book your consultation with us today, and you can immediately get started with an effective defense strategy.