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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – One of three white men charged with burning down a predominantly black Massachusetts church hours after President Barack Obama’s election has pleaded guilty to civil rights charges.

Benjamin Haskell pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to charges of conspiracy and damaging religious property because of race, color or ethnic characteristics.

Under the terms of a plea deal with prosecutors, he faces a sentence of nine years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 29.

The 23-year-old Haskell is one of three men charged in connection with the fire that destroyed the Macedonia Church of God in Christ in Springfield, Mass. The fire was set in the early morning hours of Nov. 5, 2008, the morning after Obama was elected as the nation’s first black president.


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