National News

Texas Man Found Guilty of Hate Crime in Mosque Fire

Posted July 17, 2018 5:17 p.m. EDT

A Texas man was found guilty of a hate crime in an act of arson that destroyed a mosque and Islamic community center in January 2017, the Justice Department said Monday.

Marq Vincent Perez, 26, of Victoria, Texas, was found guilty on all counts, including the use of a fire to commit a felony and the possession of an unregistered destructive device. He faces up to 20 years in federal prison for the hate crime, as many as 20 years in prison for the other crimes and a possible $250,000 fine.

Perez’s lawyer, Mark Di Carlo, said in an interview Tuesday that he was “very disappointed” with the trial and planned to appeal.

He said his client’s Facebook posts and text messages were subpoenaed, but the jury was allowed to see only “partial segments of them,” and the jury was given “only certain portions” of his client’s four-hour statement with federal agents.

“I am not pleased with the ethics of the government in any way, shape, manner or form,” Di Carlo said.

The mosque, the Victoria Islamic Center in Victoria was gutted on Jan. 28, 2017. No injuries were reported in connection with the fire.

During the five-day trial, witnesses explained how Perez had planned to set fire to the Victoria Islamic Center, the Justice Department said. One person, who was with Perez on the night of the fire, said Perez was excited and “jumping up and down like a little kid” while watching the mosque burn.

On Tuesday, Di Carlo dismissed that account, saying that the government’s “star witness” was an admitted burglar and drug dealer.

Other witnesses said Perez called Muslims “towelheads” and his Facebook account was filled with hateful messages.

Officials testified that items taken during two burglaries at the mosque were found at Perez’s home in addition to “an improvised bomb similar to what was used in an attempted car bombing approximately two weeks prior to the fire,” the Justice Department said.

Di Carlo described the destructive device as being five firecrackers bound together — firecrackers that were available at “many commercial stands in the city of Victoria.”

He added that his client was in a hospital on the night of the fire because Perez’s partner was giving birth to their second child, but there wasn’t any video available to prove the whereabouts of Perez at the time.

The jury deliberated for three hours. Perez will be sentenced in October.

“All people are entitled to live free from violence and fear, regardless of their religion or place of worship,” Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Civil Rights Division said in the Justice Department’s statement. “Perez’s actions were criminal, unlawful, and dangerous. This Justice Department is committed to holding hate crimes perpetrators accountable under the law.”

On Monday, the Victoria Islamic Center posted a photograph on Facebook of its new building that highlighted a granite display salvaged from the burned mosque. “Almost there!” the post said. “Rebuilding with Love.”