Aimenn D. Penny, a 20-year-old man from Alliance, Ohio, was sentenced to 216 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release for attempting to burn down a church because of its support for the LGBTQ+ community.
Penny was arrested and charged last year with one count of violating the Church Arson Prevention Act, one count of using fire to commit a federal felony, one count of malicious use of explosive materials, and one count of possessing a destructive device.
On October 23, 2023, Penny pleaded guilty to the church arson hate crime and using fire and explosives to commit a felony. According to court documents, on March 25, 2023, Penny made Molotov cocktails and drove to the Community Church of Chesterland (CCC) in Chesterland, Ohio.
Angered by the church’s plan to host two drag events the following weekend, Penny threw two Molotov cocktails at the church, hoping to burn it to the ground.
Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division stated, “This sentence holds Mr. Penny accountable for carrying out violence against an Ohio church because he disagreed with the way congregants chose to express their beliefs”.
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division added, “This defendant tried to burn down a church simply because its members created space for and provided support to the LGBTQ+ community”.
U.S. Attorney Rebecca C. Lutzko for the Northern District of Ohio commented, “Hate crimes like Penny’s hurt not only the individual target, but the entire community, causing people to fear attack based on who they love and undermining the sense of safety within places of worship”.
Executive Assistant Director Larissa L. Knapp of the FBI’s National Security Branch also stated, “Individuals who commit acts of violence, destroy property, and interfere with the free exercise of religion will face justice for those crimes”.
The FBI Cleveland Field Office investigated the case, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brian Deckert and Matthew W. Shepard for the Northern District of Ohio, Trial Attorneys Jacob Warren and Justin Sher of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section, and Trial Attorney Eric Peffley of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section prosecuted the case.