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OUR VIEW: Arsonists should serve time in state prison facility

In federal court today, three men pleaded guilty to federal arson charges in the burning of nine rural Alabama churches including four Black Belt churches, two of which were burned to the ground.

Matthew Cloyd, Benjamin Nathan Moseley and Russell Lee Debusk entered the guilty pleas to federal arson and conspiracy charges in the string of church fires set on two nights in February. Federal prosecutors recommended had a plea agreement with Cloyd and Moseley, the two who allegedly torched the local churches, who called for a sentencing range of eight years and one month, but not less than seven years, the minimum federal sentence.

State charges included arson, burglary, criminal mischief and cruelty to animals for killing a cow are also being brought against the three suspects in other counties where the arsons occurred including Greene and Sumter counties.

Defense attorneys have been discussing a similar plea deal with county prosecutors, but none has been reached. County prosecutors said any agreement will have to include time in a state prison following their federal sentences.

County prosecutors should take the steps necessary to ensure that the confessed arsonists receive as much state prison time as allowable. This shouldn’t be a question when determining what sentencing strategy they will seek following the devastation the communities and church congregations have suffered from the arsons.

Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church was one of the two area churches that were burned to the ground. After the fire was distinguished only the cement steps that once led into the sanctuary remained of the 94-year old building.

Posey was correct about his church being a labor of love and the other Alabama churches that burned were also labors of love. The churches that received damage from the arson spree have shown the strength and will to overcome the ignorance and immaturity of the acts of these three young men. It is our hope that not only do the men grow in their maturity and learn right from wrong during their stay in federal prison and hopefully state prison, but also that they learn from the strength of the community and church congregations. They have proved there is hope following tragedy.

All the churches have either rebuilt or are in the process after receiving an outpouring of donations, including more than $350,000 raised by Birmingham-Southern College, the university the three men attended.