Marq Vincent Perez, the man who burned down Victoria's only mosque in 2017, was sentenced to an almost maximum sentence of 24.5 years in prison Wednesday morning.
"This must stop. It is like a cancer to our society," said Senior U.S. District Judge John Rainey of the arson, moments before determining Perez's sentence.
That sentence came after the judge heard arguments from attorneys on both sides and statements from mosque members. Jurors convicted Perez of three charges, including a hate crime, in July after a six-day trial in which a witnesses testified that Perez was motivated by prejudice and fear of Muslims.
Perez's sentence was nearly the maximum 308 months, or about 26 2/3 years, that were available within the guidelines determined by a federal probation officer. The judge said he considered Perez's lack of a criminal history in determining the sentence.
Defense attorney Mark Di Carlo argued to the judge that Perez's crimes merely damaged property — not people. Prosecutors, mosque members and the judge sharply disagreed.
"It creates fear all over the world. People watch incidents like this and think it could happen to them," the judge said, adding, "It has a rippling effect."
But mosque members said the arson had a far more personal feffect for them and their families.
Since the mosque's destruction, fear has pervaded the Victoria Islamic community, said Dr. Shahid Hashmi, president of the Victoria Islamic Center and a local surgeon.
Some female members have stopped wearing head coverings in public, he said. Other members have refused to visit and pray at the new mosque, which was completed in September.
And when strangers visit, even while accompanied by members, they are regarded with suspicion, he said.
"The peace has been shattered," Hashmi said.
Mosque member Abe Ajrami echoed Hashmi's statement, revealing he too has lived in fear since the arson.
Ajrami said he has woken numerous times in the middle of the night to the scent of smoke only to find he had imagined the danger.
He has also purchased a gun, reinforced his home security and sometimes experienced anxiety while jogging alone at night.
But in court, Ajrami refused to show to Perez how the crime had affected him.
"I refuse to give you the pleasure of seeing my tears," said Ajrami, turning to directly address Perez, who sat with his attorney.
While Ajrami and other mosque members asked the judge to give a sentence that would offer Perez ample opportunity for rehabilitation, they also pointed out Perez had never admitted to, apologized for or even acknowledged the mosque's destruction and its effect.
"You destroyed yourself," said Ajrami, adding, "Look yourself in the eye and say, 'I was the terrorist.'"
11:45 p.m. Update:
Marq Vincent Perez is sentenced to about 24.5 years in federal prison for destroying the Victoria Islamic Center and other crimes.— Jon Wilcox (@thrilcox) October 17, 2018
About 20 people, including mosque members, law enforcement and defendant's family appeared for the sentencing. @Vicadvocate— Jon Wilcox (@thrilcox) October 17, 2018
Marq Vincent Perez says his attorney's schedule prevented him from properly discussing the sentencing report. @Vicadvocate— Jon Wilcox (@thrilcox) October 17, 2018
"I'm not going to sentence you until you have had ample opportunity to review the report," said Senior U.S. District Judge John Rainey to Perez. @Vicadvocate— Jon Wilcox (@thrilcox) October 17, 2018
Sentencing was scheduled to resume about 10:20 a.m.— Jon Wilcox (@thrilcox) October 17, 2018