FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — A Texas man has been sentenced to 40 years in prison for a church fire that caused nearly $784,000 in damage.
Jurors deliberated for just five minutes before convicting Thomas Britton on Thursday of arson and criminal mischief. He was charged with setting the January 2017 blaze at St. Stephen Presbyterian Church in Fort Worth.
Rev. Fritz Ritsch said five fires were set inside the century-old church and numerous items were destroyed, including stained glass windows and educational supplies.
Britton, 56, was identified after church surveillance video was publicly released. Investigators said Britton initially told them he wasn’t at the church, but later said he was there on a national security mission to meet a potential terrorist. Britton also left graffiti in an attempt to implicate a terrorist group, authorities said.
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“He had written something to make it seem like the damage was done by Muslims, but he misspelled Muhammad,” Ritsch said. “It was disturbing that he was trying to make it seem like it was a terrorist act. It was all very disturbing.”
Prosecutor Vincent Giardino said the crime amounted to “historic criminal mischief.”
“His goal was not just to damage the church, but to obliterate it,” Giardino said. “That is insidious. It’s sinister. And he has no remorse for it.”