AUSTIN, Texas - A federal judge handed down a sentence for the man who set an Austin synagogue on fire two years ago.
Members of Congregation Beth Israel looked on as Franklin Sechriest was sentenced to 10 years for setting fire to their synagogue on Halloween 2021. Sechriest pleaded guilty to federal arson and hate crime charges in April.
Franklin Barrett Sechriest was reportedly seen on video carrying a five-gallon container and toilet paper toward Congregation Beth Israel in Austin before the fire.
"The staff, as well as members of the congregation, have been living with this for two years. And we're still living with it because the sanctuary is still not usable. There's still yellow tape across the doors and the doors are still burned," said Senior Rabbi Steven Folberg. "But I think that for myself and for some of us, there is a sense of relief that we can move forward, that this piece of this is done, and that we don't have to keep revisiting it and revisiting it in the same way that we have."
In the courtroom, Sechriest could be seen throughout the morning looking back at his parents and mouthing, "I’m sorry."
He apologized to the court as well, saying, "I will never forgive myself." He also promised to continue to "atone" for his actions and denounce the "evil ideology."
According to his defense attorney, that ideology was the result of indoctrination by online hate groups that Sechriest had stumbled upon while seeking community during COVID.
His defense attorney also asked for leniency due to Secriest’s diagnosed medical issues, which include Autism and OCD.
"I don't think that any of those issues had anything to do with what he did," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Devlin after the sentencing. "He made voluntary choices. He made intelligent choices on his end, and he engaged in a lot of premeditation, a lot of planning, and it was very deliberate."
The judge ultimately agreed though he expressed empathy toward those struggling with mental health and their parents.
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"There is nothing more that you could have done," said Judge David Ezra, addressing Sechriest's parents. "It wasn’t your fault."
However, Judge Ezra said the biggest factor in his decision was the danger he felt Sechriest could be to others going forward.
"We applaud the decision to sentence the Congregation Beth Israel arsonist to 10 years in prison," said Jackie Nirenberg, regional director for ADL Austin, in a statement shared with FOX 7. "We are grateful to the FBI San Antonio office and the Austin Fire Department for their thorough investigation into the incident, and the prosecutors from the US Attorney's Western District of Texas office for sending a message that hate and antisemitism will not be tolerated in our community."
Sechriest is not eligible for parole and will have three years of supervised release after he completes his sentence. The judge is also going to recommend that Sechriest be committed to a federal medical facility.