Iowa Man gets 15 years for burning Church Pride Flag

United Church of Christ
Adolfo Martinez

Adolfo Martinez, 30, of Ames, was sentenced Wednesday to 15 years for the hate crime of arson, as well as a year for the reckless use of explosives or fire, and 30 days for harassment according to ABC The sentences are to be served consecutively, Story County court records show.

A jury convicted Martinez in November. He was arrested in June.

Martinez said he tore down the flag that had been hanging from the United Church of Christ in Ames and burned it because he opposes homosexuality.

UPDATED: Fact-checking site Snopes investigation done after main stream media reports reveals the truth behind the inordinately long sentence to which Adolfo Martinez received.

Ames, Iowa, police arrested Martinez in the early hours of June 11, after police said he had caused a disturbance at a local bar and threatened to burn down the establishment, before returning with an LGBT rainbow flag he stole from the Ames United Church of Christ, and setting fire to it outside the bar. Martinez admitted to his crimes in an interview with KCCI, saying he was motivated by an antipathy towards homosexuality and that he had “burned down their pride, plain and simple.”

Despite his on-screen confession, Martinez pleaded not guilty to three charges, the Story County Attorney’s Office told Snopes: Third-degree arson, an aggravated misdemeanor which typically carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison; third-degree harassment, a simple misdemeanor; and reckless use of fire or explosives, a serious misdemeanor that typically carries a maximum prison sentence of one year.

On Nov. 6, a jury in Story County convicted Martinez on all three charges. The County Attorney’s Office confirmed to Snopes that Martinez was given a 30-day prison sentence for the charge of third-degree harassment, and a one-year sentence for reckless use of fire or explosives.

In the normal course of events, a conviction for third-degree arson would yield a maximum sentence of two years in prison. However, because the flag burned by Martinez was an LGBT symbol, and because Martinez himself said this was his motivation for setting fire to it, prosecutors added a hate crime enhancement to the arson charge.

Iowa law requires that certain offenses, if prosecuted as a hate crime, must be “classified and punished as an offense one degree higher than the underlying offense.” Thus, Martinez’s conviction for third-degree arson was elevated from an aggravated misdemeanor to a Class D felony.

In Iowa, a Class D felony is typically subject to a maximum prison sentence of five years. However, Martinez had two previous felonies, details of which were not immediately available. Iowa law designates as an “habitual offender” anyone “convicted of a class ‘C’ or a class ‘D’ felony, who has twice before been convicted of any felony in a court of this or any other state, or of the United States.” Therefore, Martinez was sentenced as an habitual offender.

Iowa law states that the maximum sentence for an habitual offender is 15 years in prison. In this case, prosecutors recommended that maximum sentence, on the basis that they believed Martinez to be “very dangerous” and because of his lack of remorse. Story County Attorney Jessica Reynolds told KCCI that Martinez “stated that there was nothing the judge could do to stop him from continuing this behavior, and that he would continue to do this, no matter what.”



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