The trial of a suspect in the burning of a predominantly black church in Massachusetts just hours after Barack Obama was elected president begins Monday.
Federal prosecutors say Michael Jacques was among three white men who set fire to the then-under-construction Macedonia Church of God in Springfield, Mass., on Nov. 5, 2008, according to The Associated Press.
Jacques, 26, is accused of burning down the church out of anger that Obama, a black man, was elected president of the United States. Jacques, however, has denied wrongdoing, saying he was forced to sign a confession.
He is being charged with “conspiracy against civil rights, damage to religious property, use of fire to commit a felony and aiding and abetting,” which can result in up to 60 years in prison, according to AP.
During the 2008 presidential election, 96 percent of black voters voted for Barack Obama. Although the portion of white men that voted for Obama was significantly less, 41 percent, Obama was the first Democrat to garner more than 38 percent of the white male vote since Jimmy Carter, according to exit polls.
The other two men involved in the torching of the church – Benjamin Haskell, 24, and Thomas Gleason, 23 – pleaded guilty last year, with Haskell sentenced to nine years in prison and Gleason still awaiting his punishment. Gleason is expected to testify against Jacques during the trial, which is expected to last up to six weeks.
Judge Michael Ponsor will hear both sides of the argument in Jacques’s church burning case.
Meanwhile, Macedonia Church has been reconstructed since its burning and is near completion. The church is expected to open in a few months.