Ala. Church Fires Suspects in Federal Court

Three college students accused in a series of arsons at churches in rural Alabama headed to federal court Wednesday for a hearing to determine whether they can be freed on bond while awaiting trial.

Shackled and wearing orange jail uniforms, the three walked silently to a van waiting outside the Shelby County Jail in Columbiana for the 45-mile trip to Birmingham, where an afternoon hearing was scheduled.

Benjamin Nathan Moseley and Russell Lee DeBusk Jr., both 19, and Matthew Lee Cloyd, 20, were arrested last week on charges of conspiracy and setting fire to one of nine small, Baptist churches in early February.

Each charge carries a minimum sentence of five years in prison.

Authorities have not commented on a possible motive, but evidence indicates the fires began as a prank that got out of control on a night of drinking and illegal hunting. Defense attorneys have said the fires were not crimes of hate.

According to court documents, Cloyd told a witness that he and Moseley "had done something stupid" and that they set fire to a church "as a joke."

The men eventually torched five churches that night in Bibb County, south of Birmingham, according to the document, a sworn statement by a federal agent. Moseley told investigators he and Cloyd set four more fires in west Alabama four days later as a diversion, the agent said in the statement.