Local News

Church Break-Ins Now Considered Felony Instead Of Misdemeanor

Posted December 1, 2005 2:13 a.m. EST

— Crime, punishment and religion are coming together in a new state law that makes breaking into a place of worship a felony instead of a misdemeanor.

The law went into effect one minute after midnight on Thursday. Sampson County played the lead role in getting the law passed. In the course of a year, dozens of churches were broken into, vandalized and looted.

The sheriff's office said the law has already helped even before it's become official.

"We've gone from 62 break-ins last year to 5 or 6 this year," said Ted Brown of the Sampson County Sheriff's Office. "We had so much media coverage about the law we think that has played into it, plus we made some arrests too."

While the law may prevent future break-ins, churches in Sampson County are still paying a heavy price for the break-ins that occurred months ago.

At Corinth Baptist Church, the insurance rate has skyrocketed from $1,200 a year to over $4,000. For Pastor Tommy Honeycutt, it is not the money or expensive alarm systems that concern him. He said the thieves have stolen something far more valuable that can't be replaced.

"I can remember as a young boy the church doors were always open for anyone to come in and pray and now we have to lock them, deadbolt them and set the alarms worried about the next time someone breaks in," he said.

The old punishment was no more than 45 days. The new law makes breaking into any place of worship punishable by up to 10 months behind bars.