Three young men accused of setting fire to nine Baptist churches in rural Alabama pleaded not guilty during a brief hearing before a U.S. magistrate Thursday.
Defendants Matthew Cloyd, 20, and Benjamin Moseley, 19, were charged last month with conspiracy and nine counts of arson. Russell DeBusk, 19, was charged with conspiracy and five counts of arson.
Court documents quoted one suspect as saying the spree began as a joke that “got out of hand” during a deer hunting trip.
Shackled and wearing orange jumpsuits, they appeared before U.S. Magistrate John Ott in Birmingham. Their lawyers waived formal reading of the charges and entered not guilty pleas for them.
If convicted, the suspects face up to five years in prison on the conspiracy count and up to 40 years for each arson count. Two firefighters suffered minor injuries during one of the fires.