Benjamin Haskell facing nine years in prison after pleading
guilty in 2008 arson fire at Macedonia Church of God in
An updated version of this story is now available at MassLive.
SPRINGFIELD – Benjamin Haskell, one of three men accused in a racially charged church arson in 2008, pleaded guilty to the crime in federal court this morning and left the courtroom immediately to begin serving nine years in prison.
Haskell, 23, Michael Jacques, 25, and Thomas Gleason, 22, were arrested in early 2009 for allegedly torching the Macedonia Church of God in Christ in the hours after President Barack Obama’s election in November 2008.
Under his plea agreement, Haskell conceded they set the partially built church on Tinkham Road ablaze to denounce the election of the nation’s first black president. The church has a predominantly black congregation and was being built within blocks of the three men’s homes.
Haskell, wearing jeans and a cotton shirt, offered his wrists to be handcuffed moments after he pleaded guilty to destoying religious property and a civil rights violation.
The charges carried a potential 10-year sentence, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul H. Smyth said in court they adjusted the sentence slightly to recognize that Haskell cooperated with authorities to implicate the others after his arrest. Formal sentencing was scheduled for Sept. 29.
Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz attended the plea hearing. She said afterward the arson was a tragic and despicable crime.
“I hope this sentence sends a message that hate crimes will be investigated and prosecuted vigorously,” she said.
Gleason and Jacques are still scheduled for trial.