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Man ordered to pay $1.13 million after setting fires at LDS churches

Posted at 12:40 PM, Sep 13, 2022

ST. GEORGE, Utah — A man who said "righteous anger" led him to setting fire to multiple Church of Latter-day Saints meetinghouses will have to pay $1.13 million in restitution.

Benjamin James Johnson pleaded guilty but mentally ill to arson after starting fires at three St. George area churches in Aug. 2021. He submitted the same plea to a charge of failing to stop or respond at the command of police.

When speaking with detectives following the fires, Johnson, 37, continually called himself "Joshua" and said he was a type of deity. He also spit on a detective while in the interview room.

Police and fire crews first responded to an early morning fire on Aug. 31, 2021 at a church at 1295 South 3000 East. A tree was then reported on fire outside another nearby church, and then smoke was seen coming for a third church building at 1762 South River Road.

After an officer spotted a man leaving the third church and driving away in a minivan, Johnson sped off and began a police pursuit that wound through Zion National Park before the minivan crashed and caught fire.

Johnson was also sentenced to a prison term of at least one year, but not more than 15 years, which was suspended after having previously served 320 days in prison. He will serve three years of probation as part of the sentence.