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Church burners get charred

     Fear gripped Smith County a year ago when churches were torched and nearly burned to the ground. Jason Robert Bourque,21, a former TJC student, and Daniel George McAllister, 23, were both sentenced last month to life in prison along with 20-year sentences on attempted arson charges.

     Bourque and McAllister were also ordered to pay restitution to the churches that burned, but according to Bobby Mims, a criminal defense lawyer in Tyler, they most likely will never be able to pay the amounts owed.

     “I think they are going to do a significant portion of their lives given their crime,” Mims said. “The reason is politics and this is Texas not California.”

     They were both sentenced in the 114th District Court with Judge Christi Kennedy presiding and received the maximum sentence for the crimes they committed against a list of churches in the county and surrounding areas. In February, they pleaded guilty to charges in Henderson County for the burning of churches. McAllister will serve two consecutive life sentences from Henderson County and Bourque will serve three life sentences from Henderson County as well.

     The Churches that were burned include: Faith Church, Athens, Jan. 1; Grace Community Church of Athens, Jan. 10;Lake Athens Baptist Church, Jan. 10; Tyland Baptist Church, Tyler, Jan. 16; First Church of Christ Scientist, Tyler, Jan. 17; Prairie Creek Fellowship, Lindale, Jan. 20; Russell Memorial United Methodist Church, Wills Point, Feb. 4; Dover Baptist Church, Carroll, Feb. 8; and Clear Springs Missionary Baptist Church, Lindale, Feb.8.

     Mims explained that a few thought the sentencing was a little tough considering the crime, adding that it was a decision with a lot of weight.

     “Judge Kennedy did a great job, but she couldn’t be seen as lenient due to the community pressure, being an elected official in this kind of a case,” he said. “Then you have the needs of the defendant, making their punishment fitting to whatever the crime is. It’s a lot to consider.”

     In addition to their sentencing in Smith County, McAllister and Bourque received indictments from Henderson County, for arson, a first-degree felony. According to the District Attorney’s office in Van Zandt County, they were also indicted for the intentional burning of Russell United Methodist Church in Wills Point and Little Hope Baptist Church in Canton.

     In Smith County, The First Church of Christ Scientist was among the many that were burned. According to Debbie McCook a member of the church stated that the insurance company strongly suggested that they should completely rebuild, rather than attempting to work with the existing structure. There has been confirmation from a longtime member, that a building committee has been formed and is starting to take proper steps to get things moving rather quickly.

     A former Chairman and member of the church board, Peter McCook explained how much support they have received from other churches and organizations in the area. “It’s always good to see the community joining together, helping those in need. And boy, our church was one of those who needed a helping hand,” he said.

     “We could all get tangled up in what we believe in our doctrine over another, but when you throw that all out with the old bathwater, what’s really important is the love that is God, and the love we share with others while lending a hand.”

     Although the love of God was within the hearts of many who attended the church, anger was also acknowledged explained McCook. “There was a bit of anger, but also a sense of fear of the unknown, especially looking at where we were and where we are now,” he said. “Many churches were on their heels.”

     A careless crime committed by these two arsonists, have cost them their freedom and years of their lives.

     “These two men are a perfect example of what happens when you break the law. They will not see the light of day, for many, many years to come,” Assistant Fire Chief of the Tyler Fire Department, David Schlottach said. “I do, to a certain degree, think it’s really sad to see someone ruin their lives over something so foolish, but we all must obey the law.”

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