Kim Fischer, NBCDFW.com
A church fire in east Texas destroyed the sanctuary of Russell Memorial United Methodist Church in Wills Point.
Two men who pleaded guilty to starting a pair of church fires in East Texas that caused no injuries were sentenced Friday to life in prison.
Jason Bourque, 21, pleaded guilty to two counts of arson and was given two life sentences, while Daniel McAllister, 23, pleaded guilty to a single count of arson and received a life sentence, the Tyler Morning Telegraph reported. Both fires were in Van Zandt County, about 50 miles east of Dallas.
"I want to apologize to you all, and I hope you can forgive me," McAllister said to people in the courtroom. Bourque offered no words of remorse but said he understood the additional life sentences that District Judge Teresa Drum imposed. McAllister later spoke to reporters for about 15 minutes and said he believed he had been forgiven for his crimes. "God can change anyone who asks," he said.
Both men already had received life terms after entering guilty pleas to other church arsons last year in neighboring Smith and Henderson counties. Two churches were burned down on Jan. 1, 2010, in Athens, a town in Henderson County, and Van Zandt County. Two more churches were later hit in Athens, five were burned in Smith County and another in Wills Point. All the fires occurred in January and February 2010.
In all, Bourque has now been convicted on 10 counts of arson and three attempted arsons and given 10 life sentences. He received an additional 20 years in prison, meaning he is not eligible for parole for at least 20 years. McAllister was convicted on five counts of arson. He has received five life sentences and must serve 15 years before he is eligible for parole.
Bill Parr, pastor of Little Hope Baptist Church, the first church burned during the spree, took the witness stand and told the men they were welcome to join the church when they are released from prison. "I have nothing but words of love, forgiveness and prayer for you," he said.
"You did not injure God, because he cannot be injured. You did not injure the church, only inconvenienced us for a while, but now it's more beautiful than ever." Security videotapes and shoeprints helped lead to Bourque and McAllister, according to investigators. Both men were arrested last February.