Minister Who Claimed Racial Bias Pleads Guilty to Setting Fire to His Home

Mark Bowes, Richmond Times-Dispatch, July 31, 2013

A black Baptist minister who claimed he was the victim of a hate crime after racist graffiti was painted on his house and his front porch and car were set ablaze pleaded guilty Tuesday to setting fire to his family’s rental home.

In pleading guilty to felony arson of an occupied dwelling, Olander D. Cuthrell, 41, a minister of music at Good Shepherd Baptist Church in Petersburg, admitted he poured a mixture of oil and gasoline across part of his home’s front porch and ignited it about 4:30 a.m. March 15.

Olander Cuthrell

Olander Cuthrell

Cuthrell’s oldest son, who discovered the fire after the family dog woke him, extinguished the flames with water before it spread to the house, which was occupied by Cuthrell and four other family members, Chesterfield County prosecutor Laura Khawaja said in a summary of evidence.

Last month, Cuthrell pleaded guilty to an accompanying charge of misdemeanor arson for igniting a 16-ounce bottle filled with oil and gas inside an inoperable, family-owned 1992 BMW parked outside the house. {snip}

After the fires, Cuthrell suggested in interviews with several news outlets that he was the victim of a hate crime. He said he had no sense of security and planned to move his family from the neighborhood.

To bolster his claim of being the target of a racially motivated attack and to divert attention from himself, Cuthrell painted the N-word on two sides of his house in the 7800 block of Little Ridge Court, Khawaja said. {snip}

Police said Cuthrell became the focus of their investigation within 10 days and he was arrested April 2. The prosecutor said Cuthrell eventually admitted to setting the fires, telling investigators he was motivated by family financial problems.


Chesterfield Circuit Judge T.J. Hauler accepted Cuthrell’s guilty plea Tuesday and set sentencing for Oct. 31. The offense carries a minimum punishment of five years in prison and a maximum term of life.

Khawaja told the court Tuesday that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Richmond plans to charge Cuthrell with lying to a federal agent but would recommend he receive probation for that offense if he pleads guilty.

For the misdemeanor offense, to which Cuthrell pleaded guilty June 6, Cuthrell was sentenced to 12 months in jail with 12 months suspended.


After the hearing, defense attorney Richard Gates said Cuthrell will have been incarcerated seven months by the time of his sentencing hearing, and he hopes the judge will consider a punishment of time served. Gates said it was unclear what Cuthrell hoped to gain by setting the fires, aside from sympathy, because he didn’t own the house and filed no insurance claims.


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