Texas Man Pleads guilty to hate crime and arson for setting fire to Austin Synagogue

Franklin Barrett Sechriest
Franklin Barrett Sechriest(Travis County Sheriff's Office)
Published: Apr. 8, 2023 at 7:11 PM CDT
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AUSTIN, Texas (KWTX) - A Texas man pleaded guilty to a hate crime and arson in connection with a fire he set at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Austin, Texas on Oct. 31, 2021.

According to court documents and admissions made during the plea hearing, three days before the arson, on Oct. 28, 2021, Franklin Sechriest of San Marcos, Texas, drove to the synagogue’s parking lot outside its sanctuary.

According to journals recovered from Sechriest, he went there to “scout out a target.” Sechriest admitted that he targeted the synagogue because of his hatred of Jews, and his journals were replete with virulent antisemitic statements and views. Sechriest also possessed several decals and stickers expressing antisemitic messages.

The night of the arson, Sechriest drove to the synagogue and was seen on surveillance video carrying a five-gallon container and toilet paper toward the synagogue’s sanctuary. Moments later, multiple surveillance videos captured the glow of a fire from the direction of the sanctuary.

A security camera captured Sechriest jogging away from the direction of the fire and toward the open driver’s side door of a vehicle. A concerned citizen reported the fire, and the Austin Fire Department responded quickly to extinguish it. In Sechriest’s journal, in an entry dated Oct. 31, 2021, he wrote “I set a synagogue on fire.” In the days following the arson, Sechriest’s journal noted that he was actively monitoring media reports to track the progress of the investigation into the arson.

“Antisemitism has no place in our society, and hate-fueled violence will not be tolerated,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “By targeting a house of worship, the defendant attempted to intimidate and disrupt the Jewish community. The Department of Justice is committed to aggressively prosecuting antisemitic violence and will continue to hold accountable the people responsible for these deplorable incidents.”

“These hate-filled crimes not only caused damage to a Jewish place of worship, but they were intended to intimidate and undermine the well-being of the entire Jewish community,” said U.S. Attorney Jaime Esparza for the Western District of Texas. “Antisemitic violence and violence against any person or group on account of their religion will not be tolerated. My office will remain vigilant in bringing to justice criminals who engage in hate crimes.”

The sentencing is set for June 23. Sechriest faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.