Matthew Cloyd, 20, and Russell DeBusk Jr. and Benjamin Moseley, both 19, were charged with breaking both state and federal laws, and have been in federal lockup since their March 8 arrest. In such cases, says U.S. attorney Alice Martin, local prosecutors typically agree to a federal sentence in federal prison, if only to save the locals money. But in this racially charged case (five of the churches burned were predominantly black), bringing justice home is an issue. "They will do time in Alabama. I am not bending on that," says Bibb County DA Michael Jackson. Meanwhile, Alabama Attorney General Troy King, who is up for re-election this year, says he will not agree to a sentence and jail time that's federal only. "These were Alabama churches, Alabama congregations and there will be Alabama consequences."
The sticking point is whether to allow the federal and state sentences to run concurrently, with the trio serving all their time in federal lockup. Attorneys for the three men are seeking a federal minimum of seven years, with any state sentence to run concurrently. Alabama prosecutors may still demand at least seven years jail time for each crime. "In this case, everyone wants their pound of flesh," says DeBusk's attorney Brett Bloomston.
Not everyone. "I forgive them and feel sorry for them," says Dancy First Baptist Church pastor Walter Hawkins of the defendants, echoing the distaste the pastors feel for the bargaining over their sentences. "There is mercy in justice," says Jim Parker, pastor at Ashby Baptist Church. "When you actually see who did it, warehousing criminals is not the answer. If you want to teach a lesson, let them spend the rest of their lives paying back every nickel."
If a plea bargain is reached, however, a lot of Alabamans may feel cheated. After their arrest, Cloyd, DeBusk and Moseley said they had set the first of five fires as a spontaneous joke, then followed it with four more fires intended as cover. Without a trial, all the details of their crimes and how much planning went into them may never be known.