Suspect Found Guilty in Victoria Mosque Arson Case

VictoriaMosqueBurnt_IN01VICTORIA, TX: The jury in the two-week long trial of the suspect in the January 28 fire that burned the only mosque in Victoria, 125 miles southwest of Houston, delivered its verdict on July 17. After deliberating less than three hours, they found the suspect, Marq Vincent Perez, 26, guilty on all counts of arson, commission of a hate crime and use of an unregistered destructive device in an unrelated crime. He faces 40 years in prison when he is sentenced on October 2.

“Hold him accountable for what he did. Find him guilty,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Sharad Khandelwal to the jury at the end of his closing arguments. “Justice has been served,” said Abe Ajrami, a Victoria Islamic Center leader and one of several congregation members in the courtroom.

The incident generated international media attention and more than $1 million in donations for the reconstruction of the mosque, which is slated to reopen in a few weeks.

Much interest was drawn to the case after a board member of the local Jewish synagogue, B’nai Israel Temple offered the keys of the temple for the Muslim congregation to pray a day after the arson attack.

That board member, Dr. Gary Branfman, a 61-year-old Jewish plastic surgeon, could see the flames from his house. He drove to the house of the mosque’s president, Dr. Shahid Hashmi, a 69-year-old fellow surgeon who is a former neighbor and longtime friend and handed him the keys without asking the board’s permission, but decided to ask their forgiveness later.

Branfman was asked to be the guest speaker at the Indian Muslims Association of Greater Houston’s annual Eid Milan Gala held on June 30. He described how his act of generosity and religious coexistence had brought him renown and even speaking engagements from my parts of the world, though that was not his intention.