MYNORTHWEST NEWS

Olympia man indicted on arson charges after damaging religious property

Dec 14, 2022, 4:34 PM

Photo from the Department of Justice

A 50-year-old Olympia man has been indicted for multiple arson cases at Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Halls in Olympia and Tumwater in 2018.

Michael Jason Layes — who goes by the name Mikey Diamond Starrett — has been in custody since September 2021 on a firearms charge. He was previously indicted for allegedly shooting at a Kingdom Hall in Yelm.

Jason Chudy with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives said the pattern of the crimes was clear.

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“I mean, it’s clear that these attacks were targeted at the Jehovah’s Witnesses community, his motivation behind that is something that would probably be best answered by him,” Chudy said. “And that will probably also come out during the actual trial. ”

No one was injured in the shootings or instances of arson, but investigators said the attacks were escalating.

Investigators used evidence at the scene including surveillance videos, tips, and tracking down the sales of the type of fire log suspected of starting the fire.

“Our investigators used every available resource, they had to make sure that this investigation was done properly and that the evidence we gathered was strong,” Chudy said. “I hope this brings a sense of relief to the Jehovah’s Witnesses community, as well as to the communities in Thurston and Pierce counties. You know, we believe we’ve got the arsonist off the streets. And at this point, it’s up to the courts to try him.”

According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), Layes allegedly set fire to the Kingdom Hall of Tumwater and the Kingdom Hall of Olympia on March 19, 2018, and the Kingdom Hall of Olympia again on July 3, 2018. It is currently believed that Layes set the fires because of their religious character.

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“As DOJ noted this week, we are putting a priority on prosecuting hate crimes,” said U.S. Attorney Brown. “We continue to work closely with our faith communities so that they have the most current information on how to protect places of worship.”

The case is being investigated by the ATF Seattle Field Division, the FBI, the Tumwater Police Department, and the Olympia Police Department.

If convicted, he could face up to 20 years for each charge of damage to religious property, as well as up to 10 years in prison if convicted of the charge of unlawful possession of an unregistered firearm.

Layes will be arraigned on the indictment next week.

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