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.