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Washington Man Charged with Hate Crimes for Arsons of Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Halls

Indictment alleges the defendant defaced, damaged and destroyed religious real property at the Kingdom Halls because of the religious character of the properties.

A Washington man was indicted by a federal grand jury in Seattle in connection with three arsons that damaged or destroyed Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Halls.

Mikey Diamond Starrett, aka Michael Jason Layes, 50, of Olympia, Washington, was charged in a superseding indictment with three counts of damage to religious property, including the use of fire, and three counts of using fire to commit a federal felony. The defendant was previously charged with one count of damage to religious property, including the use of a dangerous weapon, and one count of use of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, in connection with a shooting that damaged a separate Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall. The defendant was also previously charged with one count of unlawful possession of an unregistered firearm.

According to the superseding indictment, the defendant set fire to three Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Halls: the Kingdom Hall of Tumwater, Washington on March 19, 2018; the Kingdom Hall of Olympia, Washington on March 19, 2018; and the Kingdom Hall of Olympia, Washington, on July 3, 2018. The superseding indictment alleges the defendant defaced, damaged and destroyed religious real property at the Kingdom Halls because of the religious character of the properties.

If convicted, Starrett faces a sentence of up to 20 years in prison on each charge of damage to religious property. Starrett faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted on the unlawful possession of an unregistered firearm charge. If convicted, Starrett faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison to run consecutive to any sentence imposed for each of the remaining offenses.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney Nick Brown for the Western District of Washington made the announcement.

The ATF Seattle Field Division, the FBI Seattle Field Office, the Tumwater, Washington Police Department, and the Olympia Police Department investigated the matter. Trial Attorney Matthew Tannenbaum of the Civil Rights Division’s Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebecca S. Cohen for the Western District of Washington are prosecuting the case.

For more information and resources about the department’s work to combat hate crimes, visit www.justice.gov/hatecrimes.

Read more at the Justice Department

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