'Militant Atheist' Who Severely Beat Ohio Pastor Sentenced to Eight Years in Prison; Pastor Extends Forgiveness

A North Hampton, Ohio, pastor has extended forgiveness to a self-described militant atheist who beat him severely last year and will now serve years in prison.

"I would want him to know going into prison hearing from me that I've extended forgiveness for him," the Rev. Norman Hayes, pastor of The Bridge Community Church, said according to WDTN.

James Maxie of Springfield was found guilty of felonious assault and sentenced to eight years in prison, Springfield News-Sun reported on Wednesday. Maxie assaulted Hayes in October 2013 at the North Hampton church after the pastor asked Maxie's girlfriend if she felt safe around him. The beating left Hayes with a broken nose, bruises and three cuts requiring stitches across his face.

"He was very, very upset that I'd even suggest that he would hurt her," Hayes said at the time, describing the incident. "Then he turned around and hurt me very badly."

Last month, Maxie took a plea deal at Clark County Common Pleas Court, and had a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest against him dropped, in exchange for a guilty plea on the second-degree felony assault charge.

"I've totally ruined my life. My girlfriend watched in terror as I did this. My girlfriend's family suffered. My mom and dad suffered the embarrassment of what I did," Maxie said at his sentencing.

Hayes, whose face scars were still visible half a year after the attack, said that he questions how sincere Maxie's apology really is, however.

"It was all basically about himself and so, I think true remorse is when you don't talk about yourself and all you talk about is how sorry you are for the other person," the pastor said.

Last October, "Friendly Atheist" blogger Hemant Mehta urged his readers to help pay the pastor's medical bills following the attack, appealing for $25,000.

"We may not be able to control future incidents like these but we can control how we react as a community. That's why I'm donating to the fund and I'm asking all of you to chip in as well," Mehta wrote.

The Bridge Community Church pastor, who says he still replays the attack in his head, noted that the church has since changed security procedures.