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Ohio man pleads guilty and admits to attack on LGBTQ-friendly church

Aimenn D. Penny threw Molotov cocktails at the Community Church of Chesterland in a "reprehensible" act of "violence and terror," prosecutors say.
Community Church of Chesterland (CCC), in Chesterland, Ohio.
The Community Church of Chesterland in Chesterland, Ohio.Google maps

An Ohio man pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from his "reprehensible" bid to burn down a church that's supportive of LGBTQ rights, officials said Tuesday.

Aimenn D. Penny, 20, of Alliance, Ohio, threw Molotov cocktails at the Community Church of Chesterland on March 25, hoping to torch it because it had scheduled upcoming drag events, according to court documents.

Penny pleaded guilty to using fire and explosives to commit a felony and to violating the Church Arson Prevention Act, legislation President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1996 in response to a string of attacks on Black churches.

Penny faces a minimum of 10 years behind bars and could be hit with a maximum of 30 years, defense lawyer John Greven said Wednesday. Sentencing was set for Jan. 29.

Jess Peacock, the church’s pastor, said the congregation was satisfied with the outcome.

“From the very beginning, we said that we held no ill will against Mr. Penny,” Peacock said Tuesday. “We were very disappointed by the actions he took.”

The explosives hurled at the church destroyed its sign but otherwise did little damage.

When Penny was arrested this year, federal agents searched his home and found a “hand-written manifesto that contained ideological statements, a Nazi flag, Nazi memorabilia, a White Lives Matter of Ohio T-shirt, a gas mask, multiple rolls of blue painters tape and gas cans,” a criminal complaint said.

The court document called “White Lives Matter” a group with “racist, pro-Nazi, and homophobic views.”

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who leads the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, called Penny's acts “reprehensible.”

“There is no room in this country for such bias-motivated violence and terror,” she said in a statement.

A probation report hasn't been written yet, but Penny's defense hopes he's sentenced to the lower end of the 10-to-30 range.

"Under the circumstances, it was a fair plea deal," Greven said. "We're hoping for something much closer to the 10."

The March 25 attack didn't stop the church from following through with its two scheduled events: a drag show at a local restaurant and drag story time for children at the church.

"Hindsight is 20/20," Greven said. "He (Penny) understands there were better ways to protest against what he was against."

The church was forced to increase security as a result of Penny's attempt to burn it down and threats it received from far-right groups, Peacock said.

"While we hold no ill will against Mr. Penny, we do think there needs to be repercussion when people use violence to prevent anyone from living their lives," Peacock said.

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