A 25-year-old Texas man has pleaded guilty to hate-crime charges stemming from a series of racially motivated arson crimes, including the burning of an historic African-American church to murder a disabled man.
Steven Scott Cantrell, 25, committed the arson in December 2010, according to the Justice Department. He pleaded guilty to damaging religious property and interfering with housing rights in violation of federal hate crime laws before U.S. District Judge Robert A. Junell in federal court in Midland, Texas, on Friday.
Cantrell admitted to setting fire to Faith in Christ Church, a predominantly African-American church, as part of an effort to murder a disabled African-American man who he saw passing by the church in his wheelchair. The man was not hurt. Cantrell ransacked the church, wrote a series of threatening and racist messages in large letters across the wall of the church next to the pastor's office, and "tagged" the church with references to the Aryan Brotherhood.
The arson of Faith in Christ Church was part of a series of racially motivated crimes Cantrell perpetrated to gain status with the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. Cantrell also admitted that he set fire to the house of another man in the community because he believed that man to be Jewish and wanted to interfere with that man's right to rent or occupy that house.
Cantrell also admitted to setting fire to Craig's Gym in violation of federal arson laws. At the plea hearing, Cantrell acknowledged that he set fire to Craig's Gym because he believed the owners served Mexican Americans and African-American patrons and because the gym was owned by a Caucasian man married to a woman of Mexican descent. Cantrell added that he felt "disrespected" by a Caucasian man marrying a woman of Mexican descent because he believed "the white race needed to be kept pure."
"The defendant's cowardly acts of setting fire to a house of worship, an apartment, and a gym were motivated by racial, ethnic and religious bigotry," said John E. Murphy, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas. "His conduct and motivation are deplorable and repugnant to the basic principles of our society."