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Man, 20, pleads guilty to helping burn church; promises to testify

Formal sentencing is scheduled for January 23, 2008, for a 20-year-old Jeremiah man who has pleaded guilty to a charge of facilitating the arson of the Blackey Pentecostal Church in September 2006.

Leonard C. Lester III also pleaded guilty on October 29 to charges of second-degree facilitation of arson, third-degree complicity to burglary, and complicity to theft.

According to a plea agreement signed by Lester and Letcher Commonwealth’s Attorney Edison G. Banks II, Lester has agreed “to testify in a truthful manner” against his co-defendant in the case, Tristan D. “Derek” Adams.

According to the agreement, Lester acted in complicity with Adams by “aiding, counseling, (or) assisting Adams” in setting the church on fire after the theft of various musical instruments and other church property.

Shortly before entering the guilty plea, Lester wrote a letter to court authorities telling them that he is “willing to take a lie detector test” to show that he did not know Adams was planning to steal from the church, or that Adams had set the structure on fire.

“I was 18 years old straight out of state foster homes and was gone from here since I was 10 years old,” wrote Lester. “Therefore I knew not where that church was and have never seen it in my life until that night. I thought he was taking me up to his family’s church to meet some people to come to my house, girls, which evidently was untrue.”

Continued Lester, “When he told me what he was going to do I asked, better yet begged, him to take me home and he refused several times. I never stepped inside the church or broke into it, but in fact witnessed Derek go into it. I would have stole his truck and left him there to get to my house, but I can’t drive at all.”

Lester said he helped Adams load the stolen goods into the truck “because the boy would not take me home and I was scared.”

“I did not know he set the church on fire until I was almost home,” Lester said. “Then he told me when I got home. I told Mom and she said report it at class tomorrow, and I did.”

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