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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended May 14, 2000
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Sent on Mormon-News: 12May00

Summarized by Kent Larsen

Judge Orders Vandals Of LDS Chapels To Write Book Of Mormon Essay
Riverside CA Press-Enterprise 9May00 D1
By Marlowe Churchill: The Press-Enterprise

RIVERSIDE, CALIFORNIA -- A California Judge has sought to make the punishment for vandalism of an LDS chapel fit the crime. Judge Vilia Sherman, after deciding that the crime was due to the defendant's religious hatred, added a condition to a plea-bargain requiring two men convicted of vandalizing an LDS chapel to write a 2,000 word essay on the Book of Mormon after reading it.

Kevin Otjen, 24, of Moreno Valley and Justin Clark, 22, of Temecula were convicted in March of vandalizing an LDS Chapel, and are still suspected of vandalizing three other LDS chapels. The two were caught following an all-night stake out involving LDS Church members, who alerted police to a new vandalism attempt. The two men continue to deny any responsibility for breaking windows at four Mormon churches, but agreed to pay $12,000 in restitution. The deal spared the two men a one-year jail term.

"I believe religious hatred is based on ignorance," Judge Sherman told the two defendants both of whom wore starched white shirts, ties and dark slacks, ironically similar to LDS missionaries. Blaming the attacks on the men's hatred of Mormonism, she ordered the two men to read the Book of Mormon and then write a 2,000 word essay on it.

Police testimony supported the contention that the two men hated Mormonism. Arresting officers claim that Clark told them, "Well, we don't believe in their religion. I'm Christian and they are not the same." Both men deny making any statements to that effect.

The plea bargain was reached after local LDS Church officials agreed to a lenient sentence if the defendents agreed to accept responsibility for the acts or reimburse the Church for the broken windows. Damages totaled $12,031.34, which the court ordered the defendants to pay.

But the families of the two were angry with the sentence. Clark's mother, Barbara, said, "They are paying restitution for what they didn't do?" She claims that the boys weren't involved, "We know where these boys were at all the times of these incidents," Clark said.

Defense attorney Don Hensel, who represented Otjen, thinks that they were convicted on too little evidence, "The evidence was weak," he said. Hensel said that the police investigation was incomplete and assumed that the perpetrators of the nine different acts of vandalism were the same.


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