Supremacist Brothers Plead Guilty to Arson at 3 U.S. Synagogues

SACRAMENTO - Two white supremacist brothers pleaded guilty Friday to federal charges of setting fire to three Sacramento synagogues and an abortion clinic in 1999. Under their plea agreements with prosecutors, Benjamin Matthew Williams, 33, faces 30 years in prison and James Tyler Williams, 31, a 20- to 21 1/2-year sentence. Sentencing is set for Nov. 30.

The brothers still face state murder charges in the slayings of a gay couple, Gary Matson, 50, and Winfield Mowder, 40, on July 1, 1999, about two weeks after the fires. They have pleaded innocent; trial is set for next April and they could face the death penalty if convicted.

A search of the brothers' home in connection with the slayings had turned up evidence linking them to the arsons.

"The main event, the murder trial, is yet to come," Brian Matson, brother of Gary Matson, said after Friday's hearing. These arsons were just part of a single, hate-inspired spree of terrorism for which they must pay with their lives.

Though no one was injured in the fires, they caused more than 3 million dollars in damage to the Congregation B'Nai Israel and Kenesset Israel Torah Center, both in Sacramento, and the Congregation Beth Shalom in Carmichael.

The pair also pleaded guilty to setting fire to Country Club Medical Center, which houses the Choice Medical Group abortion clinic, on July 2, 1999. The brothers had been charged with 13 counts of conspiracy to commit arson, arson, destruction of religious property and the use of fire to commit a felony. They faced a maximum penalty of 235 years in prison.

James Williams told U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell he pleaded guilty in part because his brother also decided to accept the sentencing offer.

About 15 representatives from the synagogues and the abortion clinic attended Friday's appearance in Sacramento federal court.

Since his arrest, Matthew Williams has repeatedly professed anti-Semitic, anti-gay and white supremacist views, and has said his defense in the murder case will be based on his belief that the Bible condemns homosexuality. Fliers left at the synagogues suggested the two were seeking revenge on Jews they held to blame for the NATO bombings of Yugoslavia.

Matthew Williams has told news organizations that he alone committed the murders and arsons. However, investigators say Tyler Williams' handprint is on the pistol used to kill Matson and Mowder.