|New Horizons Baptist Church completely gutted|
MARYSVILLE, Ohio — A Philadelphia man accused of burning down a Union County church on Tuesday hasn’t said publicly whether he did it.
But as he was led from Marysville Municipal Court in shackles on Wednesday, 30-year-old Stephen Beightler told reporters that it was the best day of his life.
While in court, Beightler told Judge Michael J. Grisgby that when he pursued a criminal charge against someone in 2005, Assistant Union County Prosecutor Melissa Chase had let him down.
“Her credibility is somewhat lacking,” he told the judge.
Little information is available about the case to which Beightler was referring because no one was charged. But according to Union County sheriff’s office records, Beightler and another man went to the sheriff’s office in 2005 and told investigators they had been sexually abused in the summer of 1985. Beightler was 4 years old then.
The report doesn’t mention New Horizons Baptist Church, the church Beightler now stands accused of setting ablaze after driving a stolen BMW into its doors. And Union County Prosecutor David Phillips said that in 1985, that church as it is known today didn’t even exist. He also said the men never accused anyone in a position of authority at the church that once filled that location as being involved. Instead, the allegations were made against another juvenile.
The only connection known so far is that Beightler and his family attended a church at that location in the 1980s. It was the Faith Baptist Temple back then. That church closed in the early 1990s, and New Horizons opened with a new pastor in 1994. Roger Williams, the current pastor, has been there six years and says it is an entirely new congregation of about 150 members.
Phillips said he understands that when a man is accused of driving from Philadelphia, where Beightler now lives, to Union County to burn down a church, people will draw what they believe are logical conclusions about motivation.
“But that would be wrong and unfair,” Phillips said.
|New Horizons Baptist Church in better days|
Williams said the congregation will hold services this Sunday at Mill Valley Elementary School in Marysville.
“We’re not angry at this gentleman,” Williams said. “In fact, to be quite honest, our hearts go out to him. If he’s carried pain around for years, I hope to reach out to him and be able to help."
A passer-by made the first call, at 3:52 a.m., to the Union County sheriff’s office reporting the church fire at 17939 Paver Barnes Rd. Several other calls followed. At 4:13 a.m., a dispatcher received yet another call, this one from a man who told them, “Tell your officers that are at the Paver Barnes fire to look at the swing set.” When the dispatcher began to question the man, he hung up.
Sheriff Jamie Patton said officers found Beightler swinging on the swing set. Court records indicate that he had the cellphone from which the 911 call had been made and also had in his pocket the key to the 2005 BMW that had been driven through the church doors.
The sports car was owned by a friend of his in Philadelphia, who told police that Beightler had not been given permission to take it.
In court Tuesday, after Beightler had been arrested and charged with arson and receiving stolen property, Judge Grisgby asked him whether he understood the charges.
A smiling Beightler answered that he wondered if perhaps someone else was involved: “Was it Professor Plum with the candlestick in the conservatory?”
The judge was not amused. After two more attempts to get Beightler to answer, he finally said yes.
Beightler is being held at the Tri-County Jail in lieu of a $1 million bond. He is scheduled to return to court on Thursday.
MARYSVILLE, Ohio — A Union County judge ruled today that a man accused of driving through the doors of a church and then burning the building down is competent to stand trial.
The competency hearing was delayed nearly an hour because Beightler, 30, had to be transported from the jail to court alone rather than with other prisoners. He was heavily shackled and wore a mask to prevent him from spitting on others. Several extra deputies were on hand and they all were wearing protective gloves, an uncommon practice in the courtroom.
This was because Beightler has been a constant problem in jail and has been criminally charged with assaulting the guards there, Union County Prosecutor David Phillips said.
Beightler is charged in Union County with arson, vandalism, breaking and entering, receiving stolen property and possession of criminal tools for the overnight fire at New Horizons Baptist Church in rural Marysville on Jan. 10.
Authorities say Beightler, who grew up in Union County, stole a BMW from his roommate in Philadelphia, drove the car through the night to Marysville and into the church on Paver Barnes Road and then set the place ablaze.
He was arrested at the scene, swinging on a swing set and watching the fire after he called 911 from a cell phone. Detectives say he had a disposable lighter in his pocket and gasoline on his clothes.
He was charged more recently in Champaign County, which is the location of the Tri-County Regional Jail that serves Union County.
Champaign County authorities say that Beightler failed to obey an order at the jail on Feb. 10 and, when a guard went to check on him, Beightler punched him in the face. Then, a police officer from the village of Mechanicsburg called to investigate also was injured.
As a result, Beightler was charged last month with one count of assault on a corrections officer, a fifth-degree felony, and one count of assault on a peace officer, a fourth-degree felony.