ALBANY, GA (WALB) -In an afternoon courtroom surprise, arson charges against an Albany pastor were suddenly dropped.
Metropolitan Baptist Church Pastor Dr. Joseph Howard was charged with hiring two men to burn his church on West Gordon Avenue for insurance money two years ago. Vincent Jackson and Curtis Jones said Howard hired them to torch the building.
As the trial was starting Monday, the FBI brought prosecutors an audio tape of Jackson claiming he lied. Chief Assistant District Attorney Chris Cohilas said the tape seriously damaged his case and he had no choice but to drop the charges.
Doctor Howard and his Metropolitan Baptist Church congregation spent Monday night celebrating. The church was packed with people who are thankful their leader no longer has a criminal case hanging over his head and his ministry.
The congregation at Metropolitan Baptist Church says they have a lot to give praise for as they sang and clapped their hands Monday night. "It's a glorious feeling. It feels like this church has just won God's lottery," said church member Billy Anderson, Sr.
The church has been through a rough time. "It was really a major test to see where our faith really was," said Anderson.
On December 31, 2007, the sanctuary was trashed and lit on fire. The church's pastor, Dr. Joseph Howard, was arrested and charged with arson. His congregation never believed it. "I know him to be an honest man," said church member Kendell Crawford.
"I think that a lot of it was plotted. And from just what I see, I strongly believe that. But can I prove that? No," said Howard. Howard was taken aback when he heard the development in court that he'd been cleared.
"I was very surprised," said Howard. But he says he's been hopeful and praying for what he calls a chance to reclaim life and mobility. "I've been praying since the first day for truth and that's been my expectation," said Howard.
It didn't take long for the news to spread through the congregation and spill over into an impromptu celebration. "I can't think of another way to celebrate without giving Him the glory for what He has done," said Howard.
"The cloud has been over their heads for almost two years and now the cloud is gone," said Crawford.
It was enough to make Howard sing a few lines at the celebration. "I'm just happy about vindication and our people feeling restoration and a sense of peace," said Howard.
It's the peace church members say they knew would come with time.
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