An Alliance, Ohio man who pleaded guilty in October to firebombing a church with Molotov cocktails because the church planned to host drag shows, was sentenced to 18 years behind bars on Monday.
On Oct. 23, 2023, 20-year-old Aimenn D. Penny pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Church Arson Prevention Act and one count of malicious use of explosive materials. He was originally charged with those two charges as well as using fire to commit a federal felony and possessing a destructive device, though the latter two were dropped as part of the plea agreement.
The charges stem back to March 25, 2023, when Penny made Molotov cocktails and drove to the Community Church of Chesterland in Chesterland, Ohio.
The church had plans to host two drag shows in support of the LGBTQI+ community the following weekend, which angered Penny, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
When Penny arrived at the church, he threw two Molotov cocktails at the place of worship with hopes of burning it to the ground, the DOJ added, attributing the information to court documents.
By pleading guilty, Penny admitted to using fire and explosives with force, and intended to stop members of the church congregation from enjoying and expressing their religious beliefs.
Penny had faced up to 20 years in prison for violating the Church Arson Prevention Act, plus a 10-year mandatory prison sentence that runs consecutively with any other prison sentence imposed, for using fire to commit a federal felony.
On Monday, a federal judge sentenced Penny to 216 months, or 18 years, in a federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release.
“This sentence holds Mr. Penny accountable for carrying out violence against an Ohio church because he disagreed with the way congregants chose to express their beliefs,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the DOJ’s national security division said. “Such acts of extremist violence have no place in our communities and the Justice Department is committed to bringing to justice those who would use or threaten violence to prevent their fellow citizens from freely exercising their fundamental rights.”
Also commenting was Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clark of the DOJ’s civil rights division, who said they hope the sentence sends “a clear and resounding message” that hate-fueled attacks against churches will not be tolerated.
“This defendant tried to burn down a church simply because its members created space for and provided support to the LGBTQ+ community,” she said. “The Justice Department will vigorously investigate and prosecute such senseless, bias-motivated violence against people exercising their constitutionally protected right to practice their religion and express their beliefs.”