It’s been five months since the Victoria Islamic Center was destroyed by a fire on Jan. 28. The fire was later determined to be arson. Yesterday, there was another development in the case, which is far from over.
Arson suspect Marq Vincent Perez was charged with a federal hate crime in addition to arson.
"Intentionally defacing, damaging or destroying a religious house of worship, such as a mosque, here is a federal crime," said Abe Martinez, acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas.
“There’s been a lot of uncertainty with this case and this latest chapter has been quite a pleasant surprise for investigators and mosque members,” says Jon Wilcox, a reporter for the Victoria Advocate.
Perez was arrested March 3 in connection to a Jan. 15 incident where he allegedly threw homemade explosives at a Victoria family’s home. Wilcox says Perez has been imprisoned in the DeWitt County Jail since then because he was denied bond.
Wilcox says Perez’ lawyer told him it was likely that Perez had not yet been informed of this indictment.
Wilcox says it took more than three months to indict Perez because hate crime charges are difficult to investigate.
“[Martinez] said that investigators have interviewed countless witnesses and people in the community, and have had to analyze forensic evidence, which can take quite a long time for results to return,” he says.
If convicted, Perez faces a maximum sentence of 40 years in federal prison and up to $750,000 in fines.
Wilcox reported that Perez’ indictment hints at potential accomplices in the arson. Martinez told him that no one else has been charged in relation to the crime, but said future prosecution is possible.
There is no trial date set, and Wilcox says it is unclear how long it might take to do so.
Written by Molly Smith.