State law enforcement officials say a member of the Greenville church that was burned and vandalized with “Vote Trump” in spray paint is in custody for the Nov. 1 crime.
Greenville police on Wednesday arrested Andrew McClinton, 45, of Leland for setting Hopewell Baptist Church on fire and scrawling “Vote Trump” on the side in spray paint, according to Warren Strain with the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation. McClinton is charged with one count of first degree arson of a place of worship.
Strain said the investigation is ongoing and declined to comment further. A motive has not been released.
Hopewell Bishop Clarence Green could not immediately be reached for comment. However, Green told The Associated Press that McClinton is a member of the congregation.
Kenya Collins, spokesperson for the city of Greenville, said McClinton was not currently being charged with a hate crime.
“The charges that he received today, it was not a hate crime but we do not know if the federal government will pursue that as such because we do not have a motive yet,” she said.
McClinton, who authorities say lives approximately six miles from the church, is currently in the custody of the Washington County Detention Center awaiting an initial appearance in Greenville Municipal Court.
McClinton served eight years in prison with the Mississippi Department of Corrections after being convicted of armed robbery in 2004 in Lee County, Mississippi, according to The Associated Press. He was released in January 2012. His time served included days he was jailed before trial.
The fire quickly made national news as rumors and accusations swirled about it being a hate crime because Hopewell is a predominately black church. Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons, who last month called the fire a hate crime, previously vowed, “We will not rest until the culprit, be they male, female, black, white, Republican, or Democrat; is found and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Wednesday, Simmons said the arson was “a direct assault on the Hopewell congregation’s right to freely worship” and again vowed to pursue a conviction in the case.
“There is no place for this heinous and divisive behavior in our city,” he said. “We will not rest until the culprit is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We take pride in our work to have a unified city and we look forward in continuing that work. We are excited to move forward in the healing process.”
A GoFundMe page set up to raise funds for the church secured more than $200,000 in two days. The page has since been taken down.
The church was a total loss, according to Greenville Fire Chief Ruben Brown Sr.
Collins said the church has been demolished.
Source: The Clarion-Ledger | Sarah Fowler