Man sentenced to 20 years for cathedral arson

.- A Superior Court judge sentenced Stuart Vincent Smith Nov. 8 to 20 yeas in prison for attempting to burn down the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.

The 32-year-old man pleaded guilty to charges of arson, aggravated assault, vandalism to a place of worship, possession of a firearm during commission of a crime and carrying a firearm to a public gathering. Smith committed the crimes Oct. 7, 2003. Damage to the church totaled $365,000. It had undergone an $11-million restoration three years earlier.

Chatham County Superior Court Chief Judge Perry Brannen Jr. called Smith's crime "an offense to everyone who lives in this community."

"It was extremely distressing for me to witness the defendant's deliberate attempt to destroy not only the building but the spirit of the people who worked to restore it,” said the rector, Msgr. William O'Neill in a written statement read in court.

“Buildings can be repaired, even though at great cost, but when the damage is deliberately caused, the cost seems greater and inexcusable. Even though the defendant claims he does not believe in a God, I want him to know that I will continue to pray for him every day that he will find peace and courage to live responsibly," he wrote.

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