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Eugene man pleads guilty to hate crime against St. Mary Catholic Church

After a series of escalating threats against the church, police arrested Benjamin Hernandez at the Eugene Public Library last year.

Posted: Feb 12, 2019 7:06 PM

EUGENE, Ore. -- A Eugene man who threatened to shoot up St. Mary Catholic Church last year pleaded guilty to a federal hate crime and illegal possession of ammunition on Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams said.

Police arrested Benjamin Jaramillo Hernandez, 69, on Sept. 21, 2018, after a series of threatening and violent actions targeting the church.

“Hate crime laws protect fundamental American values including the free expression of religion,” Williams said.

RELATED: Man arrested after threatening St. Mary Catholic Church

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

Then on Sept. 14, a church employee reported to police that someone had used pepper spray on door handles at the church and had sprayed it through the mail slot. They said they experienced burning sensations in their fingers and respiratory distress.

A Eugene police officer and an FBI agent identified Hernandez as the person responsible using surveillance footage.

Williams said on Sept. 16, Hernandez shouted at a witness across the street from the church, “I’ve got something for you right here,” and pointed to a bag he was carrying.

The day before his arrest, St. Mary employees reported finding a threatening note and seven bullets in the church office. A police officer reviewed surveillance footage and identified Hernandez as the person who left the items.

Hernandez will be sentenced on May 22.

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