A Mississippi man has been sentenced to 10 years behind bars after pleading guilty to burning down his own historically black church in 2016.
The arson — which occurred one week before the presidential election — was initially investigated as a possible hate crime because the house of worship was also spray painted with the words, “Vote Trump.”
What are the details?
Andrew McClinton, 47, eventually confessed to torching the Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in Greenville, where he was a parishioner.
Washington County District Attorney Dewayne Richardson told the Associated Press that McClinton had been involved in unnamed “illicit” activities with other congregants at the house of worship, and set fire to the building in an effort “to hide that information from being disclosed.”
Prosecutors say McClinton feared other members were going to expose his alleged criminal conduct at an upcoming meeting, and the arson was his attempt at preventing the discussion.
McClinton was arrested nearly two months after the church was burned down. In the meantime, the FBI was asked to get involved “to determine if any civil rights crimes were committed,” because of the “Vote Trump” message found scrawled on the building’s exterior.
At the time, Greenville Mayor Errick D. Simmons called the burning “an attack on the black church and the black community,” reminding people of attacks on black churches during the 1950s and ’60s, the Clarion Ledger reported.
According to WLBT-TV, the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation “is not classifying this as a hate crime.” Officials told WAGA-TV, “There may have been some effort to make it appear politically motivated.”
While McClinton took responsibility for burning the church, he continues to deny being behind the “Vote Trump” graffiti.
McClinton is a multiple felon, convicted of grand larceny in 1991, attempted armed robbery in 1997, and armed robbery in 2004. On Thursday, McClinton was handed a 10-year prison sentence as a habitual offender, and an additional 10-year suspended sentence. McClinton will not be eligible for early release.
The Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church was founded 111 years ago, and has 200 members, the Daily Mail reported. Although some of the walls of the structure still stand, church leaders said the remnants will likely need to be razed in order to rebuild.