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Henry County teen sentenced in Axton church arson case

Friday, May 3, 2013

A Henry County teenager was sentenced in federal court Thursday after he pleaded guilty in January to deliberately setting a church on fire.

Jean Claude Bridges, 18, was sentenced to two years in prison and two years of supervised release, and he was ordered to pay $141,773.68 in restitution during a hearing Thursday in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia in Danville, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Bridges was 17 at the time he and another juvenile, aged 16, were charged in connection with the May 20, 2012, blaze at New Holy Deliverance Outreach Ministry on Hobson Road in Axton, the release stated. The church has a predominantly African American congregation, it added.

Bridges admitted when pleading guilty that he burned down the church because of the race, color and ethnic characteristics of its members, the release stated.

“When he set fire to the New Holy Deliverance Outreach Ministry, he endangered neighbors and first responders. This act of prejudice offended the entire community,” U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Heaphy said Thursday. “This office will protect the civil rights of everyone and vigorously prosecute crimes like that committed by Mr. Bridges. Racism has no place in Axton or anywhere else in the Western District of Virginia.”

Before his guilty plea was entered, the court granted a government motion to transfer Bridges to adult status for criminal prosecution.

He faced a maximum possible penalty of up to 20 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 or both, according to previous reports.

“The freedom to practice the religion that we choose in a safe environment without being subjected to hateful acts is among our nation’s most cherished rights,” said Roy L. Austin, Jr., deputy assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Anyone who violates this right will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

The incident 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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