April 13, 2006

Alabama church arson suspects plead not guilty

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (Reuters) - Three young men accused of
setting fire to nine Baptist churches in rural Alabama pleaded
not guilty during a brief hearing before a U.S. magistrate on

Defendants Matthew Cloyd, 20, and Benjamin Moseley, 19,
were charged last month with conspiracy and nine counts of
arson. Russell DeBusk, 19, was charged with conspiracy and five
counts of arson.

Court documents quoted one suspect as saying the spree
began as a joke that "got out of hand" during a deer hunting

Shackled and wearing orange jumpsuits, they appeared before
U.S. Magistrate John Ott in Birmingham. Their lawyers waived
formal reading of the charges and entered not guilty pleas for

If convicted, the suspects face up to five years in prison
on the conspiracy count and up to 40 years for each arson
count. Two firefighters suffered minor injuries during one of
the fires.