The Justice Department today announced that a federal jury in Victoria, Texas, has returned guilty verdicts on all counts as charged related to the 2017 burning of a local mosque. Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick, Special Agent in Charge Fred Milanowski of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner of the FBI made the announcement.
The jury found Marq Vincent Perez, 26, of Victoria, guilty for a hate crime in the burning of the Victoria Islamic Center on Jan. 28, 2017, and for use of a fire to commit a felony. In addition, they found he possessed an unregistered destructive device for an incident that occurred on Jan. 15, 2017.
“All people are entitled to live free from violence and fear, regardless of their religion or place of worship,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Civil Rights Division. “Perez’s actions were criminal, unlawful, and dangerous. This Justice Department is committed to holding hate crimes perpetrators accountable under the law.”
“This case represents the great coordination and cooperation of many federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies,” said U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick. “The Department of Justice is committed to protecting the religious liberty of all people and their ability to practice their faith without being the target of this kind of dangerous activity.”
“Houses of worship are scared places in America,” said ATF Special Agent in Charge Fred Milanowski. “We are pleased in the outcome of this investigation, and ATF will continue to aggressively investigate all House of worship fires.”
“Hate crimes are not only an attack on a specific victim, they threaten the cornerstone of diversity that America was built upon,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner. “Perpetrators of hate crimes, like Perez, aim to chip away at our nation’s foundations by instilling fear into entire communities with violence.”
The jury heard from a total of 19 government witnesses, including law enforcement officers, experts, and others who testified about communications with Perez, one of whom detailed how Perez called Muslims “towelheads.” An FBI agent took the stand and described hate-filled messages found on Perez’s Facebook account.
Testimony in court detailed how Perez planned the event and revealed how he had done “recon” of the mosque in the days leading up to the fire. A witness who was with Perez on the night of the fire described how excited Perez was upon seeing the mosque in flames, explaining that he was “jumping up and down like a little kid.”
Additional evidence presented in court revealed that items taken during two burglaries at the mosque were found at his home, and also an improvised bomb similar to what was used in an attempted car-bombing approximately two weeks prior to the fire.
The jury also heard from an arson expert who concluded the fire was the result of an “intentional application of an open flame.”
The jury found Perez guilty on all counts as charged and deliberated for approximately three hours following a five-day trial.
Perez faces up to 20 years in federal prison for the hate crime and up to 10 years for possessing an unregistered destructive device. For use of a fire to commit a felony, the penalty is a consecutive and mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison. All of the counts also carry a potential $250,000 fine. Sentencing has been set for October 2.
ATF and FBI conducted the investigation along with the City of Victoria Fire Marshal’s Office, Victoria Fire Department, Victoria Police Department, Texas Department of Public Safety - Criminal Investigations Division and Texas Rangers with assistance of Texas State Fire Marshal’s Office and sheriff’s offices in Victoria and Nueces Counties.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Khandelwal and Kate Suh are prosecuting the case along with Trial Attorney Saeed Mody of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.