Man sentenced in Alberta church fires

A man who broke into two churches in Wetaskiwin, Alta., last October and set them on fire is sentenced to four years and eight months in prison.
Wetaskiwin First United Church was destroyed by fire in October. ((CBC))
A man who broke into two churches in Wetaskiwin, Alta.,  and set them on fire last October was sentenced Thursday to four years and eight months in prison.

For each church, Peter Terence Jones, 23, pleaded guilty in March to breaking and entering and committing an indictable offence inside.

The fires destroyed Wetaskiwin First United Church on Oct. 13 and badly damaged St. John's Lutheran Church on Oct. 14.

The courtroom in Wetaskiwin was packed with members of the congregations of the two churches, as Jones read a letter of apology.

The court also heard statements from people who were directly affected by the fires.

Rev. Ruth Lumax told the court about the grief and shock she felt after her church, First United, burned to the ground.

The fire caused more than $4 million in damages, Lumax said.

At one point during the sentencing, Lumax turned to Jones and directly addressed him.

"We do not want you, Peter Jones, to be abandoned," she said. Lumax then offered to help him heal from the incidents.

Fire damaged St. John's Lutheran Church in Wetaskiwin, Alta., on Oct. 14. ((Trish Estabrooks/CBC News))
According to an agreed statement of facts, Jones broke into First United Church and lit a fire to cover his tracks.

He broke into St. John's Lutheran the next day. He stole a piece of art as well as a silver chalice and goblet and then lit two fires inside the building, the court was told.

Jones was arrested in Wawa, Ont., on Jan. 20 and originally faced two counts of arson and an additional count of breaking and entering.

The Crown asked for a sentence of five years, arguing that churches should be protected places in society. The defence proposed a 32-month sentence.

Jones will actually serve four years in prison since the judge gave him credit for time he has already spent in custody.

First United's Lumax said her congregation hopes to build a new church on the old site by December 2011.

She said the ordeal has been hard for her congregants.

"It's one piece of the puzzle but by no means is our journey done," she told CBC News after the sentencing.

"I deal with congregants, many of whom probably had hoped to be buried out of that building and may not get to be in the new building."