A Texas man who openly expressed hatred of Muslims faces more than 24 years in federal prison after being convicted by a jury of firebombing a mosque in Victoria, Texas. Prosecutors call it a “straightforward case of hate.”
Marq Vincent Perez, a 26-year-old electrician’s helper, was convicted by a federal jury in July of a hate-crime charge of damaging religious property; use of fire to commit a federal felony; and possession of an unregistered destructive device.
The fire on Jan. 28, 2017, destroyed the Victoria Islamic Center in Victoria, Texas, 125 miles southwest of Houston.
Perez was arrested two months later on a charge of attempting to set a car on fire in a separate incident, while federal authorities continued their investigation of the mosque arson. He was federally charged with the mosque firebombing in June 2017.
The mosque, rebuilt with $1 million in donations from around the world, reopened this past August, about a month after a jury convicted Perez of the three hate-related crimes.
Perez, who boasted that he firebombed the mosque to “send a message,” did not take the stand in his own defense during his week-long jury trial.
The jury was told Perez had become a father on the day of the arson and had been at a hospital with his wife and newborn son.
But authorities showed the jury a series of “trophy” photographs investigators found on Perez’s cellphone, taken after the mosque was firebombed.
Jurors also heard and saw evidence of Perez’s hatred of Muslims when prosecutors introduced social-media postings and online comments to his friends.
In an unusual step, federal prosecutors asked the court to seal their sentencing memorandum, which would have outlined elements of the case and their view of its seriousness. The court granted the request, and the sentencing memo is sealed from public view.
But the gravity of the hate crime wasn’t a secret at Wednesday’s sentencing hearing.
Senior U.S. District Judge John Rainey sentenced Perez to 174 months in prison on the hate crime charge of damaging religious property, saying from the bench, “this conduct [will] not be tolerated in our society.”
On the second count of using fire to commit a federal felony, the judge sentenced Perez to an additional 120 months in prison, to be served consecutive to the first count, for a total of 294 months in confinement.
At trial, the prosecution’s main witness was a juvenile, identified only as “K.R.,” who cooperated with investigators.
The teenager told the jury that he and Perez had twice burglarized the mosque, and Perez wanted to “send a message” by setting the religious center on fire during the second break-in.
The prosecution witness testified Perez was convinced the Muslims in Victoria were a threat to the community and believed they would find “guns and bombs” when they burglarized the mosque. Instead, they only found two laptops and cell phones, which they sold online.
Photo credit AP Images/Evan Lewis/Victoria Advocate