A Texas man has been sentenced to more than 37 years in prison this week for bombing a church and attempting to murder a parishioner.
Twenty-six-year-old Steven Scott Cantrell of the small town of Crane in west Texas pleaded guilty on Nov. 30 in a federal court. He was charged with damaging religious property, interfering with housing, and arson.
According to Reuters, Robert Pitman, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas, said, “When hatred and bigotry are expressed through acts of violence and destruction, this office will use every resource available to ensure that those responsible are found, prosecuted and punished.”
Cantrell said that he had seen an African American man passing by the historic Faith in Christ Church in Crane, and that afterwards he had set fire to it.
Pitman said that Cantrell ransacked the sanctuary and wrote “racist and threatening” messages on the walls and then set fire to the complex, comprised of four buildings.
Before being sentenced, Cantrell admitted that he had hoped to kill a man he believed to be living in a shelter inside the church, although the man was not injured.
Officials say that a week after setting the church on fire, Cantrell wrote an apology letter to the pastor.
According to Pitman, the church arson was one in a series of racially motivated crimes carried out by Cantrell on Dec. 28, 2010 as he was attempting to “gain status” in the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas.
Cantrell also targeted a man he believed to be Jewish, setting his home on fire. The suspect also told U.S. District Judge Robert Junell that he had also set fire to a gym he said served non-white customers and is owned by a Caucasian man married to a Mexican-American woman.
In addition to his sentence of over 37 years in prison, Cantrell has been ordered to pay more than $500,000 in restitution to his victims.