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Counties demand state prison time for church fires

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — County prosecutors said they want three former Birmingham college students to serve time in state prison after they finish their federal prison sentences for burning nine rural Alabama churches.

Matthew Cloyd, Benjamin Nathan Moseley and Russell Lee Debusk are scheduled to appear in federal court in Birmingham this afternoon to plead guilty to the church fires.

Federal plea deal

Defense attorneys and federal prosecutors have worked out a plea deal on the arson and conspiracy charges.

Details of the agreement will be unveiled today in court, but prosecutors said the charges carry a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years.

The three will be sentenced later.

The three are also charged with state crimes in Bibb, Pickens, Greene and Sumter counties, including arson, burglary, criminal mischief and cruelty to animals for killing a cow.

Defense attorneys have been discussing a similar plea deal with county prosecutors, but none has been reached. County prosecutors said any agreement will have to include time in a state prison following their federal sentences.

"Regardless of what happens in the federal system, they are going to have to do years in the state system," Bibb County District Attorney Michael Jackson said Tuesday.

Pickens County District Attorney Chris McCool agreed that state prison time in a must. "The state and federal cases are based on the same facts, but they are separate prosecutions," he said.

Not 'too comfortable'

Jackson said he wants the three to serve time in state prison because felons generally prefer to serve their sentences in federal prison rather than state lockups, where the conditions are often more restrictive and austere.

"We just really don't want these three young men to be too comfortable," Jackson said.

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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