Aryan Brotherhood arsonist gets 37-plus years prison time

Midland Reporter-Telegram, Texas/November 30, 2011

A 26-year-old man who pleaded guilty to five racially motivated arsons in Crane last year was sentenced Wednesday to 37 1/2 years in federal prison.

Steven Scott Cantrell, a member of the white supremacist Aryan Brotherhood of Texas,admitted to destroying religious property in a Dec. 28 fire at the Faith in Christ Church in Crane and for attempting to kill a disabled African-American he believed lived at the church.

According to court documents, Cantrell became a sergeant in the Ace Deuce, a New Mexican branch of the Aryan Brotherhood gang, while serving a prison sentence there. When he relocated to Texas, he told authorities he sought to prove himself to the local chapter and went on an arson spree one night in Crane.

Cantrell ransacked the church and wrote threatening racist messages on the wall of the church next to the pastor's office. He also "tagged" the church with references to the gangs Ace Deuce and Aryan Brotherhood, court records show.

A mentally and physically handicapped African-American man in a wheelchair passed the church, and Cantrell said he believed the man lived at the church and would be inside when he set fire to it. Authorities said Cantrell also believed that murdering the man would help him gain status with the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas.

Because the man is considered a vulnerable victim, prosecutors could increase Cantrell's punishment.

Members of the church, including the Rev. Ellis Lane, were present during Cantrell's sentencing Wednesday morning. Lane told the court that he and his congregation forgave Cantrell and urged him to get help in dealing with his hatred.

"I don't understand. I've been angry before in my life but hate is a problem. Now, we've got ourselves in a problem because of hate," he told Cantrell. "You're fixing to go to a place with a lot of hate so look for another anecdote, which is love. That's what we're all about."

Cantrell apologized to the court, Crane community members present and his family members, including his niece, nephew, mother and sister who also were present.

"I'm sorry for going through all of this, and hopefully, we can get past this," he said.

Judge Robert Junell had Cantrell face the church members when he offered them an apology.

"I'd like to move this behind us. I've made it right with God, and hopefully you can forgive me too," he said.

"We forgive you," Lane replied.

Cantrell also admitted to starting another fire at a home in the 800 block of Alford Street where he believed the dweller was Jewish and set fire to Craig's Gym in Crane because he believed the owners helped Mexican and African-American patrons. A Caucasian male who is married to a woman of Mexican descent owns the gym, authorities said. Cantrell told officials that he felt disrespected and believed that "the white race needed to be kept pure."

The fourth and fifth fires he set on Dec. 28 in Crane were to a church van at Tabernacle Baptist Church and to a utility trailer in the 500 block of Vivian Street.

Cantrell was sentenced to 27 1/2 years for a charge of damage and destruction of religious property and 10 years for a charge of use of fire in a federal felony. Those two sentences were ordered to run consecutively, court officials said.

The punishment for two other charges, 10 years for interference with housing and 20 years for federal arson, will run concurrently with the 37 1/2 year sentence.

Junell ordered Cantrell to receive mental health and drug treatment while in prison and to have no contact with any members of the Aryan Circle or Aryan Brotherhood.

Cantrell must pay a total of $550,780 in restitution to the victims involved in the case.

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