Suspect's Satanist beliefs cited in church fire indictments

Associated Press/April 21, 1999

Washington -- An Indiana man said to have an interest in Satanism was indicted Tuesday on charges of burning 10 churches in Indiana and Georgia, the National Church Arson Task Force announced.

It was the largest number of fires charged to one individual in the task force's nearly 3-year-old investigation, said Treasury Undersecretary James Johnson, the task force co-chairman.

A volunteer firefighter died in one of the blazes.

The task force has opened investigations of 752 church fires, bombings or attempted bombings and has charged 331 individuals in 249 of those attacks.

The defendant, Jay Scott Ballinger, was arrested in February on a federal complaint charging him with seven southern Indiana church fires. Ballinger "is a white man charged with setting fire to predominantly white churches," said Bill Lan Lee, acting assistant attorney general.

Lee, the task force co-chairman, spoke at a news conference at the Justice Department.

Ballinger, 36, has told federal agents that he burned 30 to 50 churches in 11 states between 1994 and 1998, according to an affidavit by Agent Scott McCart of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

In that February document, McCart said satanic materials were found in Ballinger's Yorktown, Ind., home. Ballinger traveled with his girlfriend, Angela Wood, 24, of Atlanta, as she worked as a stripper in several states.

Wood and Donald A. Puckett, 37, of Lebanon, Ind., have told federal agents that they took part with Ballinger in burning an Indiana church at which they painted an upside-down cross on the steps as part of a satanic ritual, McCart's affidavit said.

A federal grand jury in Indianapolis returned 12 counts charging Ballinger with the seven Indiana fires. A separate federal grand jury in Atlanta returned six counts charging him with three 1998 fires in northern Georgia.

In one of those, at New Salem United Methodist Church in Commerce, Ga., volunteer firefighter Loy Williams, 27, died, and three firefighters were injured.

Because of that death, Ballinger could face the death penalty if he was convicted and Attorney General Janet Reno authorized seeking that penalty. Otherwise, the Georgia fires carry a minimum penalty of 50 years in prison.

The Indiana fires carry a total minimum penalty of 90 years in prison and a maximum of 210 years. Ballinger also faces a top fine of $3,000,000.

He is in custody at a federal medical facility in Minnesota, Lee said.

Wood and Puckett were not indicted Tuesday, Lee said. They were charged in the same criminal complaint brought in February against Ballinger with assisting him in the 1994 arson of the Concord Church of Christ in Boone County, Ind.

Last week Puckett filed a petition to enter a plea of guilty to that charge. Lee said Puckett and Wood "have not been cleared" and the investigation of fires set by Ballinger continues.

"Someone who sets fire to a house of worship is not just attacking a building, they are attacking a community," Lee said, adding that the task force would continue operations "as long as needed."

The task force has maintained a 34 percent arrest rate in the fires it has investigated. Johnson said that rate was "more than double the nationwide arson arrest rate of 16 percent."

Ballinger has been in federal custody since his arrest after suffering burns from a church fire in Ohio. Off-duty Ball State, Ind., Police Sgt. Steve Hiatt said he overheard paramedics describing Ballinger's suspicious burns and remembered Ballinger's name from a 1997 church fire investigation. He stopped by the hospital and questioned Ballinger, who was bandaged with severe burns to his face, chest, legs and hands.

Ballinger has been mostly unemployed since he settled back into his parents' rural home in 1990.

In 1994, parents complained that he was recruiting teen-agers into a cult.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.