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Brothers charged in synagogue arsons

LOS ANGELES, April 5 (JTA) — Two brothers previously charged with murdering a gay couple were arraigned on charges of torching three synagogues and a building housing an abortion clinic near Sacramento, Calif.

Benjamin Matthew Williams, 31, and James Tyler Williams, 30, pleaded not guilty to last June’s arson attacks, which caused more than $1 million in damage.

Government prosecutors have said the two aimed “to intimidate, terrorize and harm Jews, providers of reproductive health services and other groups of persons whom the defendants regarded as inferior or undesirable.”

A number of Jewish leaders attended the brothers’ arraignment in a U.S. District Court room in Sacramento, among them Rabbis Brad Bloom of B’nai Israel and Matt Friedman of Beth Shalom, two of the synagogues that were set ablaze.

“This is the first time I’ve seen these guys in person,” Friedman told the Sacramento Bee newspaper. He called Matthew Williams “arrogant,” explaining that “he’s got this defiant, triumphant tone in his voice. I expect him to request a jury trial. He wants to keep his 15 minutes of fame going.”

In a related action, a California State Assembly committee approved a bill that would increase prison sentences for criminals convicted of arson on a house of worship.

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