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Department of Justice

U.S. Attorney's Office
For Immediate Release
Gary M. Restaino, United States Attorney
www.justice.gov/usao-az
Friday, October 6, 2023

Hate Crime Charges Added in Burning of Douglas Churches Case

TUCSON, Ariz. – A federal grand jury in Tucson returned a six-count superseding indictment yesterday against Eric Ridenour, 58, of Douglas, Arizona, for Arson of Property Used in Interstate Commerce, Obstruction of Free Exercise of Religious Beliefs by Fire, and Using Fire to Commit Federal Felony.

The superseding indictment alleges that Ridenour burned down two historic churches in Douglas: Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church and First Presbyterian Church. Both churches are located on Church Square, in a historic district in the border town of Douglas, approximately two hours southeast of Tucson. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, it is the only block in the nation containing churches from four different denominations: Southern Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, and Methodist. According to the superseding indictment, further investigation and evidence elicited in court testimony alleges that Ridenour intentionally started the fires in both churches because of his hostility toward their progressive doctrines, particularly their practice of having women and members of the LGBTQ community serve as church leaders. Ridenour was arrested on May 23, 2023, and charged by complaint with maliciously damaging or destroying both buildings by means of fire, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 844(i). On June 22, 2023, he was initially indicted on two counts of the same.

A conviction for Arson of Property Used in Interstate Commerce carries a minimum penalty of five years imprisonment and maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. A conviction for Obstruction of Free Exercise of Religious Beliefs by Fire carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. A conviction for Using Fire to Commit Federal Felony carries a penalty of 10 years in prison. A second conviction for Using Fire to Commit Federal Felony carries a penalty of 20 years in prison. Any conviction and subsequent mandatory term of imprisonment under Using Fire to Commit Federal Felony shall run consecutively to any other conviction.

An indictment is simply a method by which a person is charged with criminal activity and raises no inference of guilt. An individual is presumed innocent until evidence is presented to a jury that establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Douglas Police Department are handling the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Adam Rossi, District of Arizona, Tucson, and Ben Goldberg, District of Arizona, Phoenix, are handling the prosecution.

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