The last of three Massachusetts men charged in the burning of a predominantly black church to protest President Barack Obama's election was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in federal prison on Wednesday.
Federal prosecutors said Thomas Gleason was also ordered to pay $1.7 million in restitution. The 24-year-old pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy against civil rights and other charges for what prosecutors called a racially motivated arson.
"This is something that never should have happened anywhere, and certainly not in Springfield, Massachusetts," said Judge Michael A. Ponsor moments after imposing the sentence in U.S. District Court, .
Prosecutors said Gleason and two friends burned down the Macedonia Church of God in Christ in Springfield on Nov. 5, 2008, hours after Obama was elected as the nation's first black president.
The church was under construction at the time and no one was inside. However, some firefighters were injured battling the blaze.
Michael Jacques was sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison. Benjamin Haskell received a nine-year sentence. All three men are white.
'One night of stupidity'
Ponsor said Gleason received a shorter sentence than his co-conspirators because he had confessed to the crime, cooperated with prosecutors and showed a real potential for rehabilitation, MassLive.com reported.
"He is a highly salvageable young man who has grown up during this experience. It's unfortunate that that' s what it took," it quoted him as saying.
In court, Gleason apologized for what he called an "incredibly stupid" act and for the "pain and frustration" it caused the church's community and to his own family.
"Don't let one night of stupidity define who I am," Gleason said.
Reuters reported that the $1.7 million in restitution includes about $124,000 to the church. The remainder of the money goes to insurance companies involved in the case.
The rebuilt church reopened in September.