THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

2d man expected to admit Springfield church arson

By Jonathan Saltzman
Globe Staff / June 22, 2010

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Six days after a coconspirator pleaded guilty to similar charges, a Springfield man is expected to admit in federal court today that he helped torch a predominantly black church in November 2008 in what authorities described as a hate crime prompted by Barack Obama’s election hours earlier.

Thomas Gleason Jr., 22, whose trial was scheduled to start this week, plans to change his plea this morning in US District Court in Springfield, according to a hearing notice.

Gleason’s lawyer, Mark J. Albano of Springfield, and a spokeswoman for US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz, declined to discuss the terms of Gleason’s expected plea change.

Gleason was one of three Springfield men charged with pouring gasoline inside and outside the Macedonia Church of God in Christ in the early morning of Nov. 5, 2008, and setting the building ablaze. The church was under construction and nearly three-fourths completed when the fire all but destroyed it.

Last Wednesday, one of the other men, Benjamin Haskell, 23, pleaded guilty to two federal charges: conspiring to deny the civil rights of members of the church and damaging a religious property. As part of a plea agreement, Haskell, who allegedly confessed to investigators and then cooperated with them, faces at least nine years in prison.

Gleason and the third defendant, Michael Jacques, 25, were both indicted on an additional charge of use of fire to commit a felony. That carries a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years in prison.

The fire caused an estimated $2 million in damage and sent two firefighters to local hospitals for treatment of injuries.

Saltzman can be reached at jsaltzman@globe.com.

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