S.C. Pastor Accused of Arson

October 13, 2006

A pastor accused of burning down his own church went on trial this week in South Carolina and could face 25 years in prison if convicted.

Harold E. Hunter, 58, is charged in the burning of the Bethel AME Church in Summerville in April of last year.

“No day was more tragic in the history of the Bethel AME Church than when it was violated by that man, Pastor Harold Hunter,” prosecutor David Pascoe said in his opening argument.

Hunter’s wife, Patricia A. Hunter, is also charged and will go on trial later this year.

Defense attorney Kenneth Cooper argued Hunter had nothing to gain from the fire and said there was a shoddy investigation of a crime for which his client had no motive.

He said some members of the congregation wanted the Hunters to leave and weren’t afraid to use terror or frame him to get him out.

“There was so much strife in the church that pastor Hunter tried to calm it down,” Cooper said.

The Hunters were arrested in May 2005, four days after the fire which was the last in a series of unexplained episodes of vandalism, burglary and attempted arson.

Prosecutors also say Hunter caused the vandalism.

Police said after the incident that there had been some conflict among the congregation over whether or not to build a new church.

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