A man in Washington state has been charged with a federal hate crime in connection with a 2018 attack on a Jehovah’s Witnesses’ place of worship, the Department of Justice announced Thursday.
Mikey Diamond Starrett, 50, is accused of shooting at and damaging the Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall of Yelm, Washington, in May 2018, according to an indictment filed in a Washington district court Wednesday. Prosecutors allege he targeted the house of worship “because of the religious character of the property.”
After the Kingdom Hall in Yelm was attacked, authorities believe it was targeted again just three months later when a fire was set against the back fence of the building, according to a press release from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Seattle Field Office.
The incidents came as part of a string of similar attacks against Jehovah’s Witnesses’ facilities and places of worship. Between March 2018 and August 2019, the religious group’s buildings were targeted at least seven times in a single county, mainly through arson or fires, according to the ATF Seattle Field Office.
Starrett, formerly known as Michael Jason Layes, was indicted by a federal grand jury and charged with one count each of damage to religious property, unlawful possession of an unregistered firearm, and use of a firearm during and in relation to a violent crime, court documents show.
Starrett has only been charged in connection with the shooting at the Yelm worship hall. CNN has reached out to his attorneys for comment.
According to the ATF, the building sustained more than $10,000 in damage after being struck by about 35 rifle rounds. Prosecutors alleged in Wednesday’s indictment that Starrett discharged a semi-automatic rifle during the assault on the worship hall.
Starrett was arrested and charged in September 2021 for the possession of an unregistered shotgun, but he was not charged in connection with the Jehovah’s Witness facility attack until Wednesday, according to court records. Starrett is currently being held in federal custody in Washington state.
If convicted on the hate crime charge, Starrett could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison, according to the Justice Department. He also faces up to 10 years for the unlawful firearm possession charge and at least 10 years running consecutively to any other sentences for the remaining dangerous firearm charge.