VICTORIA, Texas -- A man accused oflast year has been convicted of a hate crime charge along with charges of federal arson and possessing unregistered explosives. A jury in Victoria, Texas, deliberated about three hours before convicting 26-year-old Marq Vincent Perez.
Prosecutor Sharad Khandelwal said during the trial that a "rabid hatred" of Muslims led Perez to set fire last year to the Victoria Islamic Center, destroying the building. Another prosecutor asserted that Perez aimed to terrorize Muslims along the middle Texas Gulf Coast and to cause damage and destruction.
"Hate crimes are not only an attack on a specific victim, they threaten the cornerstone of diversity that America was built upon," FBI Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner said in a Justice Department news release. "Perpetrators of hate crimes, like Perez, aim to chip away at our nation's foundations by instilling fear into entire communities with violence."
Perez, who denied involvement in the blaze, could be sentenced to up to 40 years in prison.
Defense attorney Mark Di Carlo said he and his client were "very disappointed" but no decision has been made to appeal.
Mustafaa Carroll, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Houston, welcomed the verdict. "While we are saddened by this hate-motivated crime against a house of worship, we are relieved that the arm of justice is long and bends toward what is right," Carroll said in a statement. "We thank all law enforcement agencies, first responders, the Victoria community, and all those who helped their Muslim neighbors."