Arson charges dropped against Pastor during trial -, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Arson charges dropped against Pastor during trial

By Jim Wallace - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) –In a dramatic courtroom development, arson charges against an Albany minister were dismissed, because a key witness was secretly recorded saying he lied.

Dr. Joseph Howard was accused of hiring two men to burn his church so he could collect insurance money.

But one of those men who was supposed to testify against him, told someone a different story.

Vincent Jackson previously confessed to starting the fire at Metropolitan Baptist Church.

So it was a stunning development when an audio tape of him changing his story was delivered to the courtroom today.

Assistant D.A. Chris Cohilas said he had no choice but drop the charges.

Members of the Metropolitan Baptist Church sing in celebration that their Pastor, Dr. Joseph Howard, is a free man, with all criminal charges against him are dismissed.

Crowd chants "Glory to God. Great is our God."

The Church on West Gordon Avenue burned December 31, 2007, and Investigators say it was arson. Portions of the church's property was in foreclosure, and about to be auctioned when it burned.

Vincent Jackson and Curtis Jones admitted setting the fire and said Howard hired them to do it.

About 50 members of his congregation were in the courtroom Monday morning to support Howard when his trial began, and celebrated when the charges were dismissed.

Howard said "I'm glad not only for single vindication, but vindication for our people and clearing of the name of our God and our church."

Assistant Chief D.A. Chris Cohilas said the tape came from the U.S. Attorney's Office, and was given to them by the FBI.

Cohilas said "Based upon the damage that had been done by this piece of evidence, it simply was not the appropriate thing to do, to go forward with the Prosecution. "

Howard said "Some of it was a plot. I think it was a set up from the beginning."

Cohilas said "our job is not to get conviction. Our job is not to put people in prison. Our job is to do justice."

Howard said "We look forward to moving on and serving God and him glory as we have been set forth to do."

He has continued to Pastor the Church since his indictment and arrest, and the church has been rebuilt. Jackson and Jones were sentenced to probation and time served in jail after their confession.

Tonight at seven o'clock Dr. Howard will lead a service at the Church on West Gordon Avenue to celebrate the charges being dropped against the Pastor.

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