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Man sentenced for hate crime against Eugene church

Crime
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PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A 69-year-old man was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison for a hate crime targeting St. Mary Catholic Church in Eugene and illegally possessing ammunition.

Benjamin Jaramillo Hernandez also received three years of supervised released. 

The U.S. Attorney’s Office of Oregon said Hernandez used intimidation and threats of violence to terrorize the church.

“These crimes threaten the security, freedom and well-being of entire communities,” U.S. Attorney Billy J Williams said. “No conviction can reverse the harm caused by Mr. Hernandez, but we hope it provides some measure of justice to St. Mary parishioners and the entire Eugene community.”

According to court documents, on Sept. 9, 2018, Hernandez was escorted from St. Mary property after an angry outburst during communion.

Then, on Sept. 14, a church employee reported that someone had dispensed pepper spray on the door handles and through the mail slot of the front door at St. Mary’s office. Due to the incident, employees said they felt burning sensations in their fingers and respiratory distress.

Eugene police and FBI agents identified Hernandez as the person responsible for both incidents through surveillance footage.

Two days later, on Sept. 16, authorities said Hernandez was seen near St. Mary. A witness said he shouted “I’ve got something for you right here,” while pointing to a bag he was carrying.

St. Mary employees later found a threatening note on Sept. 20 as well as seven 10mm Sig hollow point bullets in the office.

According to the DA’s Office, the note threatened the church with “2 MP5s w/ 50 rounds each,” — a type of submachine gun. The note ended with “Eugene is going on the [expletive] map.”

Once again, Eugene police reviewed the surveillance footage and identified Hernandez as the person responsible. He was arrested on Sept. 21.

During a search, police found a partially empty can of pepper spray, three .410 shotgun shells and 13 10mm Sig hollow point bullets. 

Hernandez pleaded not guilty on Feb. 12, 2019 to obstruction or attempted obstruction of persons in the free exercise of their religious beliefs and unlawful possession of ammunition.

Staff and parishioners of St. Mary said that Hernandez’s threats have left them physically injured, frightened, concerned about their own safety and unable to participate freely in the exercise of their religious beliefs. Members have reported there has been a drop in attendance and in weekly collections after the incidents.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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