Pastor arrested for setting his own church on fire - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Pastor arrested for setting his own church on fire

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January 18, 2008

Albany -- Days after his church burned December 31st, Rev. Joseph Howard showed us the damage and claimed the arson was a hate crime.

"I think it is bigotry, because of the damage that has been done," said Rev. Joseph Howard.

Now, investigators tell a different story. Friday night, state and local officials shook hands and thanked each other for their help in what is still a very active arson investigation.

"As soon as this occurred all local and state authorities came together to get to the bottom of this," said Georgia Fire Commissioner, John Oxendine.

But nobody expected to find what has risen from these ashes. "It is very serious when you have a minister burning down a church," said Oxendine.

Dr. Joseph Howard was arrested Friday for first degree arson, the second person charged in this fire.

"We had one individual arrest made yesterday, Curtis Lee Jones, 46-years-old with one count of arson in the first degree," said Oxendine.

And authorities say this won't be the last. "We also expect more arrest in the very near future as this case is continued," said Oxendine.

Investigators won't give details about a motive or who else they expect to arrest. "That might interfere with what the D.A. has for his case, and we don't want to do that. We want justice heard," said Oxendine.

But we do know Metropolitan Baptist Church had financial problems and the fire was set just two days before part of the property was set to be auctioned off.

"The evidence speaks for itself, whether or not Rev. Howard cooperates, we are following the evidence," said Albany Fire Department Chief Carswell.

"All he did was allegedly burn down a building. That church is alive. It is alive in the hearts and souls of its parishioners," said Oxendine. 

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