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Man sentenced to 20 years for burning down Rusk County church

The arson charge stems from a Dec. 21, 2019 fire at Shell’s Temple Church of God in Christ in Laneville, according to the Rusk County District Clerk’s Office.

RUSK COUNTY, Texas — A man was sentenced to 20 years in state prison for burning down a Rusk County church and stealing from an area school district. 

Paul Wayne Kennedy, of Henderson, entered guilty pleas to arson with intent to damage a habitat or place of worship and burglary of a building on Friday in a Rusk County court. 

The arson charge stems from a Dec. 21, 2019 fire at Shell’s Temple Church of God in Christ in Laneville, according to the Rusk County District Clerk’s Office. 

The Longview News-Journal reported former Rusk County Sheriff Jeff Price said the church was engulfed in flames and the investigation showed the fire was an act of arson. 

Price said in 2019 the burglary charge was connected to a break-in at Laneville ISD. Kennedy was also wanted for 17 out-of-county warrants at the time, the News-Journal reported. 

These sentences will be served at the same time, according to the clerk's office. 

Two days after the fire, Shell’s Temple Pastor Mitchell K. Battles said the Black congregation has an over 80-year history. He told the News-Journal that while the church was destroyed in the fire, the membership held worship services the day after, which was Sunday.

In addition to these charges, Kennedy was sentenced in September to almost three years in federal prison for burglarizing post offices and stealing mail in December 2019.

This past April, he pleaded guilty to burglary of a U.S. Post Office, possession of stolen mail, possession of stolen money orders, damage to government property, theft of government property and access device fraud.

Kennedy was sentenced to 33 months in federal prison. Court information showed Kennedy burglarized post offices in Texas and Louisiana between Dec. 23 and 26, 2019. 

Post offices he burglarized include those in Price, Bronson and Bon Wier in Texas as well as Evans, Louisiana. He also attempted to burglarize post offices in Newton, Texas, and Singer, Louisiana, the News-Journal reported. 

At these locations, Kennedy stole mail, packages and property belonging to the U.S. Postal Service, according to the statement. On Dec. 27, 2019, he tried to use a stolen debit card taken during the Evans burglary at the Margaritaville Casino in Shreveport, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

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