Las Vegas Sun

July 18, 2019

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Church arsonist draws maximum sentence

A Henderson man has been given the maximum sentence for starting fire to a church because some of the parishioners were black, the FBI said.

Richard Dale Morrison, 23, is the first person in the nation to be prosecuted under the federal Church Arson Prevention Act, said Bobby Siller, FBI special agent in charge of the Las Vegas office.

Morrison was sentenced to 63 months, the maximum sentence permissible under federal sentencing guidelines, for targeting the church because of racism, Siller said.

The church, at King Street and Pablo Road in Henderson, burned on Sept. 16.

Morrison admitted he intentionally burned the Church of Christ "because African-American individuals attend that church," Siller said. Morrison pleaded guilty to one count of damage to religious property in December.

The U.S. District Court found that Morrison intentionally selected the church because of the race of the parishioners.

U.S. Magistrate Philip Pro told Morrison during his sentencing Tuesday that he "richly deserved" the maximum sentence, and he would have given him more time if he could have done so under the law.

Pro told Morrison that his commission of the arson showed Morrison's "great distaste for an entire group of the community, that being the church's African-American parishioners."

"Members of the community affected by Morrison's crime need to be assured that a convicted defendant would be dealt with to the full extent of the law," Pro said.

"This is the first prosecution in Nevada under the Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996, which was enacted in response to the nationwide increase in fires involving churches," said Kathryn Landreth, U.S. attorney for Nevada.

The act was enacted in response to the nationwide increase in church fires.

Morrison was prosecution with assistance from the Department of Justice's National Church Arson Task Force.

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