South Texas mosque fire: trial of suspected arsonist begins


The trial in South Texas Mosque fire has begun with the main suspect in the hands of the justice at the federal courthouse in Victoria before Judge John D. Rainey. 

Perez faces three felony counts, including damage to a religious property and use of fire to commit a federal felony. He has pleaded not guilty. 

Most of the morning was spent in jury selection. Potential jurors were brought back late in the afternoon, when it was announced that a final panel had been selected. 

Prosecutors presented their opening statements, walking through the outline of their case, before witness testimony began. Perez's attorney Mark Di Carlo opted to reserve his opening statement for a later time. 

The lead prosecutor in the case, Sharad Sushil Khandelwal, presented the US Attorney Office's statement. 

Khandelwal promoted the idea that Perez was motivated by his "absolute hatred" of Muslims. He said the case is a "straightforward case of hate." 

Khandelwal said in December 2016 Perez became involved with a militia group on Facebook and began forming what he called "rogue units" to operate away from the "prying eye." 

Perez began recruiting people and on Jan. 15 went on a "training mission" to throw an "improvised bomb" into a car, the prosecutor continued. 

Khandelwal said Perez was convinced that Muslims were planning to take over Victoria and were hiding weapons at the Victoria Islamic Center. 

On Jan. 22 he said Perez and a juvenile identified as K.R. went to burglarize the mosque, entering through the back door to search for weapons. They didn't find any, but did steal a laptop and some cell phones, Khandelwal said.


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