GRAND RAPIDS (WCCO) — A 66-year-old Grand Rapids man has pleaded guilty to intentionally setting fire to a Grand Rapids church July 27, according to the Itasca County Attorney’s Office.

On Monday, Robert Evans Shepard pled guilty to felony first-degree arson in connection with the incident. At the court appearance, he was sentenced to 90 days in jail with a suspended sentence for one year with conditions.

According to a criminal complaint, Shepard allegedly caused about $50,000 in damages to the United Methodist Church in Grand Rapids by intentionally setting fire to it. Officers said there was significant damage in a room next to the church sanctuary as a result of the fire and significant smoke damage throughout the church.

Shepard met with police and told them he had been a custodian at the church. He said he was upset with the church because he lost his job and the church takes advantage of his wife, according to the complaint.

His wife, who was the worship committee chair, was called on July 23 and asked to run the sound board for church the next morning. Shepard said he went to the church the night before, threw water on the church floor in several spots and tampered with the sound system. He also unplugged the refrigerator and freezer at the church either that Sunday or Monday, the complaint states.

On the night of July 27, he used a lighter and lit a banner in the worship closet. He then used a quarter of a bottle of candle oil stored in that closed to help light the fire, according to the complaint. Once he saw flames, he shut the door and left the church.

In addition to the 90-day sentence, Shepard was ordered to pay $1,000 restitution, pay $125 fine, provide a DNA sample and be restrained from the United Methodist Church.


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