On Thursday, John Malcolm Bareswill, 63, was sentenced to two years in prison for making that threat — more than prosecutors requested.
According to court records, Bareswill targeted New Hope because a pastor from the church had taken part in a local vigil the previous day honoring George Floyd, who was killed in police custody in Minneapolis, and protesting racial injustice. He also called another church involved in the vigil, but the call was not answered.
“Bareswill’s threat terrified the adult Sunday school teachers who heard it and affected the entire church community,” G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a statement. “While this sentence cannot undo that harm, it sends an important message: Our community will not tolerate attempts to silence free speech or interfere with the free exercise of religion.”
An attorney for Bareswill argued that the threat was an idle one and an aberration for the law-abiding small-business owner who served in the Navy for 24 years. Bareswill is from North Carolina and operated a package delivery business in Virginia Beach.
“The mere minutes that it took for Mr. Bareswill to commit this heinous act are but a tiny fraction of the life of an otherwise honorable and decent man,” defense attorney James Broccoletti wrote in court filings.
Bareswill said in court filings that he had been worried about the potential impact of the protests on his business. Some of the speakers at the vigil advocated a boycott of local businesses.
Broccoletti argued that his client has already suffered deeply, having contracted the novel coronavirus in jail and enduring physical and verbal abuse from other prisoners.
Prosecutors had asked for a punishment within sentencing guidelines, which called for 12 to 18 months in prison. U.S. District Judge Raymond A. Jackson in federal court in Norfolk imposed two years.
Both women who were leading the Bible study that day told the court in letters that the threat continues to haunt them; both have restricted their church activities for fear of being attacked.
“It’s in the back of my head always,” one wrote.