Ohio man pleads guilty to attempting to burn down a church that planned to host drag show events

Arson News Graphic

An Ohio man pleaded guilty to violating the Church Arson Prevention Act and to using fire and explosives to commit a felony, all in connection with his attempt to burn down a church because of the church’s support for the LGBTQI+ community.

According to court documents, on March 25, Aimenn D. Penny, 20, of Alliance, made Molotov cocktails and drove to the Community Church of Chesterland (CCC), in Chesterland, Ohio. Angered by the church’s plan to host two drag events the following weekend, Penny threw two Molotov cocktails at the church, hoping to burn it to the ground. Through Penny’s guilty plea, he admitted to using force through fire and explosives, intending to obstruct CCC congregants in their enjoyment and expression of their religious beliefs.

Penny was arrested and charged earlier this year with violating the Church Arson Prevention Act, one count of using fire to commit a federal felony, one count of malicious use of explosive materials, and one count of possessing a destructive device. 

Penny faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for the violation of the Church Arson Prevention Act and a 10-year mandatory prison sentence that will run consecutively with any other prison term imposed for using fire to commit a federal felony. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Sentencing has been scheduled for Jan. 29, 2024.

The FBI Cleveland Field Office is investigating the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brian Deckert and Matthew W. Shepard for the Northern District of Ohio and Trial Attorneys Jacob Warren and Justin Sher of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section are prosecuting the case with assistance from Trial Attorney Eric Peffley of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section.