A Henry County teenager will go to prison for a race-based church arson.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Virginia says a federal judge sentenced 18-year-old Jean Claude Bridges to two years in prison for deliberately setting fire to the New Holy Deliverance Outreach Ministry in Axton, back in May of 2012. The church's congregation is made up of mostly African-Americans.
Bridges must also pay $141,773.68 in restitution, and serve two years of supervised release after leaving prison.
Investigators say Bridges was 17-years-old when he and a 16-year-old set the church on fire. Bridges later admitted to starting the fire for race-based reasons.
"Mr. Bridges' racial bias led him to commit the dangerous crime of arson," United States
Attorney Timothy J. Heaphy said in a news release. "When he set fire to the New Holy Deliverance Outreach Ministry, he endangered neighbors and first responders. This act of prejudice offended the entire community. This office will protect the civil rights of everyone and vigorously prosecute crimes like that committed by Mr. Bridges. Racism has no place in Axton or anywhere else in the Western District of Virginia."
"The freedom to practice the religion that we choose in a safe environment without being
subjected to hateful acts is among our nation's most cherished rights," said Roy L. Austin, Jr.,
Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, in the release. "Anyone who violates this right will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."