Local News

Girl Pleads Guilty to Setting Church Fire

Posted July 2, 1996

— July 3, 1996 - 12:32 p.m. EDT

A 13-year-old girl has pleaded guilty to a single felony count for burning down an old, unused sanctuary of a black church, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

The teen is to be sentenced Aug. 13 for her plea to a charge of burning of churches and certain other buildings, Mecklenburg County assistant district attorney Reid Chisholm said.

"She decided she wanted to plead guilty, didn't want to contest it in a trial," Chisholm said. "I guess you'd say she wanted to expedite the process so she could move on to the sentencing phase."

The teen faces a likely sentence of 13 to 16 months in a training school, but because the case will remain in juvenile court, authorities could keep her detained for up to 59 months, Chisholm said.

The girl was arrested three days after a June 6 fire destroyed a former sanctuary at the predominantly black Matthews Murkland Presbyterian Church in southeast Charlotte.

Among those at Monday's hearing was Larry Hill, pastor of Matthews Murkland.

"He indicated that he would like to say something at [the sentencing] and the judge indicated he is willing to hear from Reverend Hill regarding what he thinks should happen," Chisholm said. Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have said the girl, who is white, harbors anti-black and anti-Christian beliefs. But investigators said the girl did not realize the building was part of a black church when she set it on fire.

Law enforcement officials have said they found no evidence that the girl was part of any conspiracy that might be linked to dozens of other recent fires at black churches across the South.

The girl's family placed her in a secure mental health center shortly after her arrest, and Chisholm said authorities plan to keep her there until she is sentenced


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