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3 to plead guilty in church arsons

BIRMINGHAM (AP) — Three men charged with setting nine rural Alabama churches ablaze in February will plead guilty to federal charges in the arson case, a federal court filing Monday said.

Matthew Cloyd, Russell Lee Debusk and Benjamin Nathan Moseley, all Birmingham college students when arrested, will change their pleas to guilty in a court appearance Wednesday, according to the filing
by U.S. Magistrate Judge John Ott.

The plea proceeding before U.S. District Judge R. David Proctor is on federal conspiracy and arson charges in the string of five church fires in Bibb County on Feb. 3 and four in West Alabama on Feb. 7. All three are charged with the Bibb County fires, while Cloyd and Moseley are charged with the other four.

Prosecutors said the first fires resulted from a night of drinking and illegal hunting that got out of hand. The second night of fires was described in court filings as an attempt to throw the investigation off course.

When prosecutors announced the indictment in March, they said each man faced a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years imprisonment and a fine of $250,000 if convicted.

Details of the plea agreement have not been released, but Cloyd's attorney, Tommy Spina, said it will include substantial prison time for the young men who went from being well known on campus to being inmates of the Shelby County Jail.

"It's a sad day for a lot of people," Spina said.

U.S District Judge David Proctor is expected to sentence the three within 90 to 120 days, and he is not bound by the plea agreement, Spina said.

The three defendants also face state arson counts in Bibb, Pickens, Greene and Sumter counties. Defense attorneys are talking with district attorneys, but there is no plea agreement yet, Spina said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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