Swainsboro arson suspects denied bond

SWAINSBORO, GA (WTOC) - Police led Steven Davis and Anthony Williams to a familiar spot, an Emanuel County court room. In their first appearance hearing, prosecutors told Judge Bobby Reeves Davis was already on parole for burglary and Williams had three felony convictions.

The pair face arson and other charges in the fire Sept. 29 at Swainsboro's Calvary United Methodist Church. But investigators don't think they set the fire on purpose, but started it by accident during an attempted burglary.

"We do not believe in any way, shape, form or fashion, or have any evidence that this was a hate crime or something of that nature," explained Swainsboro Police Chief Randy Ellison. "We don't feel that this was something that was deliberately done, however, being that it was done during the commission of a crime, there is some intent there and they'll be held responsible for that."

The church's pastor said the arrests on Friday moves the congregation to another chapter of their recovery from the fire that destroyed their buildings and almost all property inside.

"We dealt primarily with the fire and our loss of the church property.  Now, we also have to deal with that. But we also much deal with the two that are charged and begin the process of forgiving those and that's difficult," noted Rev. Nick Hazelton. "But we are called to forgive."

Church members did not pack the courtroom for the hearing because, among other reasons, they're too busy packing their annual charity pumpkin patch to benefit children.
Nearby Hillcrest Baptist Church loaned Calvary their front lawn to host the event. To Hazelton, the call to forgive is as strong as the call to help one another.

"We can't focus on what was or what might have been. We need to focus, and we will focus on what will be," the pastor explained.

He said the loss is still the same, but knowing the church was not the target of hate makes moving forward a little easier.

Copyright 2011 WTOC. All rights reserved.