updated 4/12/2007 8:01:15 PM ET 2007-04-13T00:01:15

Three former college students accused of setting a string of church fires last year pleaded guilty to state arson and burglary charges Thursday, three days after they were sentenced on related federal counts.

Matthew Cloyd, 21, Benjamin Moseley, 20, and Russell Lee DeBusk Jr., 20, were sentenced to two years each in state prison, to be served after their federal sentences.

Cloyd and Moseley each face eight years in federal prison. DeBusk was involved in only some of the fires and was sentenced by a federal judge Monday to seven years.

Their round of pleas on Thursday resolve state charges in only five of the church fires, those in Bibb County, about 45 miles south of Birmingham, that were started Feb. 3, 2006. The defendants still face charges related to four other fires a few days later in three counties near the Mississippi line.

The fires had terrorized church-centered communities for weeks last year.

Investigators arrested the three men after linking tire tracks from the scene to the tires on a sport-utility vehicle driven by Cloyd.

Also charged with animal cruelty
All three former Birmingham-Southern College students pleaded guilty to state arson and burglary charges. Moseley also pleaded guilty to animal cruelty for shooting a cow during what they have described as a night of drunken joy riding.

None of the men spoke in court Thursday, but defense lawyers reminded the judge of apologies each had made in federal court Monday.

“I’m having a hard time balancing justice with forgiveness and mercy,” the Rev. Duane Schliep, pastor of the destroyed Rehobeth Baptist Church, said Thursday. “I guess it is something I will struggle with the rest of my life.”

In the federal case, the defendants also were ordered to pay a total of $3.1 million in restitution to the churches. Following their release, each must perform 300 hours of community service work for the congregations.

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