Houston-area Pastor Gets 10-Year Sentence for Church Blaze

May 22, 2006

A Houston, Texas-area pastor has been ordered to serve 10 years in prison for hiring a homeless man to burn his east Harris County church in an apparent insurance fraud scheme.

Roger Marcus, 55, was accused in the fire that gutted his Blessed Again Ministries Church and its thrift store last year. The April 2005 fire destroyed the church and thrift store, located at a shopping center. Several businesses at the center, including a pain clinic and a pharmacy, also suffered damage.

A jury gave Marcus a 10-year sentence for insurance fraud and a seven-year sentence for arson. The sentences will run concurrently.

Marcus was apologetic during his sentencing, telling state District Judge Caprice Cosper he doesn’t understand the faulty decisions he has made at times.

“This is not the first time I have brought harm and hurt to my family. I am not pleading insanity … I apologize, and I ask you to help me,” he said.

Marcus, of Baytown, was also ordered to pay fines totaling $20,000. Local authorities also will ask the state parole board to require him to pay $300,000 in restitution to business owners if he is granted parole.

In all, the blaze caused more than $1 million in damage. No one was hurt.

Quinton Fontenette, 28, a homeless man who frequented the thrift store, told authorities Marcus offered him used tools and some cash to burn the church. Fontenette, who has pleaded guilty to arson and is awaiting sentencing, testified against Marcus.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys said Marcus had become financially desperate in the weeks before the fire.

Within 10 days of the blaze, he admitted his role, saying he “just wanted the stress to stop.” He later recanted, however, saying he was pressured by investigators.

Marcus’ defense attorneys had asked for probation.

But prosecutor Lester Blizzard wanted at least a 15-year sentence. Blizzard said the evidence was overwhelming and that Marcus had taken advantage of the trust placed in him.

Information from: Houston Chronicle, www.houstonchronicle.com.

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