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Teen pleads guilty to setting church fire

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A former Henry County resident pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to setting fire to a church in Axton.

Jean-Claude Bridges, 18, waived his right to be indicted and pleaded guilty to a one count information charging him with destroying a religious property by fire, according to a release from the Western District of Virginia U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The charge was in connection with a May 20 incident at New Holy Deliverance Outreach Ministry in Axton, the release stated.

Racial bias was the motivation for the fire, U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Heaphy said Tuesday.

The fire “endangered neighbors and first responders. This act of prejudice offended the entire community,” Heaphy said. “This office will protect the civil rights of everyone and vigorously prosecute crimes” such as the church fire.

Bridges was 17 at the time of the incident. Before he pleaded guilty in the Danville court, the court granted a motion from the government to transfer Bridges to adult status for criminal prosecution, the release stated.

The fire began around 1:20 a.m. on May 20 at the church, which has a predominantly African American congregation, the release stated.

When pleading guilty, Bridges admitted that he burned down the church because of the race, color and ethnicity of its congregation, according to the release.

Bridges faces a maximum possible penalty of up to 20 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, or both, the release stated.

The case was investigated by the Henry County Department of Public Safety, the Henry County Sheriff’s Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.


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