SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (RNS) A defendant accused in a racially motivated arson on Thursday (Feb. 3) took the witness stand and told a federal judge he had no role in the 2008 blaze that razed a predominantly black church hours after President Obama was elected.
Michael F. Jacques Jr., 26, one of three defendants accused of setting the fire at Macedonia Church of God in Christ, testified in a pretrial hearing, arguing that investigators bullied him into a false confession while he was in the throes of Percocet withdrawal in a cramped interrogation room.

“I felt a horrible need for more … a little sick, and my nose was running,” Jacques told U.S. District Court Judge Michael A. Ponsor.

Jacques is one of three defendants charged in the case.

Benjamin Haskell, 24, has already pleaded guilty in the case and is serving a nine-year sentence at a federal prison in West Virginia. Thomas A. Gleason, 23, also pleaded guilty and has agreed to testify against Jacques at trial, scheduled to begin on March 7. Gleason is out on bail pending his sentencing in April.

All the men admitted to bias against minorities, with witnesses telling investigators the trio said they burned the church to denounce Obama’s election.

(Stephanie Barry writes for The Republican in Springfield, Mass.)

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