Burned church nearly rebuilt; three convicted

April 18, 2011

As a white man surrendered to federal marshals in mid-April, workers
were rebuilding the pulpit of the Macedonia Church of God in Christ, a
church he was convicted of burning down the night of President Obama's
election.

Michael Jacques, 26, surrendered a day after a jury
convicted him on civil rights and arson charges. Jacques ex­pressed
sympathy for parishioners of the Macedonia Church of God in Christ,
Springfield, Massachusetts. Their $2.5 million church was burned to the
ground several hours after Obama was elected the nation's first black
president.

"I'm sorry that that did happen," Jacques told
reporters outside the courthouse. "I obviously didn't do it. My heart
does go out to those people. But I am innocent, and I will appeal, and
justice will prevail."

Along with two other white men, Jacques
confessed to having a role in the gasoline-fed blaze that razed the
church. Jacques later recanted, claiming investigators pressured him
during a six-and-a-half-hour interrogation.

The two
others—Benjamin F. Haskell and Thomas A. Gleason, both 24-year-old local
men—pleaded guilty in June. Haskell was given a nine-year sentence;
Gleason will be sentenced in October.

By the time Jacques is
sentenced on September 15, the new Macedonia Church of God in Christ
will have been open for three months if construction continues on
schedule. "We're 90 percent finished, maybe 95 percent," said James A.
Tarrant, the church's principal contractor, as he pounded nails into the
pulpit area of the 18,000-square-foot building.  —RNS