Guilty of burning a church

Published 1:05 pm Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Arsonist ordered to pay damages

By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

SURRY—In the early 1950s, Prince George County resident George Wooden’s father helped build the Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ in Surry County.

In the late 1980s, George took over as the owner and pastor of the predominantly black church.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

This past October, it was burned to the ground.

Eric Blevins of Waverly plead guilty in Surry County Circuit Court Wednesday to pouring gasoline around the building, setting it aflame and watching it reduced to ash and rubble before driving away. It was Halloween night. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Blevins, 18, who is white, was sentenced to 10 years with all of it suspended for the Class 4 felony, and will have to pay restitution.

While the Commonwealth did not have a final number for the full restitution prepared at the time of the trial, the church and its contents had been insured for roughly $200,000.

The restitution requested by the Commonwealth will be the difference of the amount of replacement value for the building’s contents and what the building is insured for, according to Commonwealth’s Attorney Derek Davis.

“You’re going to be responsible for a considerable amount of money,” Circuit Court Judge James D’Alton said to Blevins.

While the 10 years were suspended, if Blevins commits any other crime, they could be reinstated, according to Davis.

Blevins was not charged with a hate crime for the burning of the black church. There was also little evidence to support that the race of the church members was a motivation for the burning, according to Davis.

Even if there had been such evidence, the state code of Virginia does not have an enhanced hate crime penalty when it comes to arson, according to Davis. While someone can have an additional hate crime charge for an assault, there’s currently no existing hate crime charge for arson.

Clinton Faison, attorney for Blevins, called his client “a very youthful defendant,” whom he said has taken responsibility for the crime.

Blevins is finishing his last year of high school at home, and will be able to get his diploma, Faison said.

He also said that Blevins had enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps the spring before burning the church, and was scheduled to report to boot camp later this month.

There were two juveniles with Blevins on the night of the arson.

Faison told the court that Blevins was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the felony, and stressed that he did not act alone, having been encouraged by one of the juveniles who was with him, but who stayed in the car when Blevins lit the church on fire.

The juvenile who encouraged Blevins to commit the arson has also been charged, according to Davis, who said he could not reveal the charge or any disposition because it involved a minor.

The second juvenile who was also with Blevins that night had contested the action, according to Davis, and was not charged.

“He didn’t act alone,” said Faison of Blevins. “It was well-planned by the other party.”

Blevins had no prior record and had been a Boy Scout for a time, Faison added.

D’Alton gave Davis, who noted he had been somewhat caught off guard by the guilty plea, until July 25 to pinpoint a final restitution amount for Blevins to pay.

When D’Alton asked Blevins if he had anything he wished to say to the court before his sentencing, he responded that he did not.

The Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ at 100 Rocky Bottom Road had roughly 10 regular members before it was burned down, according to Wooden.

He isn’t sure where his relatively small congregation is going now.

“I would give him a little slack,” said Wooden, 77, of Blevins. “I’ve been young myself, and I’ve done foolish things.

“Christian people got to forgive,” Wooden added. “Some things are hard to forgive, but you’ve still got to.”

Wooden does plan on rebuilding the church on Rocky Bottom Road, a similar task undertaken by his father, Horace, roughly 65 years ago. {/mprestriction}