San Marcos man pleads guilty to setting fire to Austin synagogue

Franklin Barrett Sechriest. (Austin Fire Department)

AUSTIN, Texas – A Texas man whose journals were filled with virulent antisemitic statements pleaded guilty on Friday to setting a fire at an Austin synagogue in 2021.

Franklin Sechriest, 20, of San Marcos, Texas, pleaded guilty in federal court to arson and a hate crime in connection with the Oct. 31, 2021 fire at Congregation Beth Israel, according to the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas.

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“These hate-filled crimes not only caused damage to a Jewish place of worship, but they were intended to intimidate and undermine the well-being of the entire Jewish community,” U.S. Attorney Jaime Esparza said in a statement.

Prosecutors, citing Sechriest's journals, said he went to the synagogue three days before the fire to “scout out a target.”

He was seen on surveillance video the day of the fire carrying a five-gallon container and toilet paper toward the synagogue’s sanctuary, prosecutors said. Moments later, surveillance videos captured the glow of a fire and Sechriest jogging away toward a black sport utility vehicle registered to a woman living at the same address as Sechriest.

The Austin Fire Department responded quickly. The blaze was a described as a small exterior fire that caused no injuries but resulted in an estimated $25,000 damage, including the synagogue’s wooden doors, the department said.

Sechrist was arrested several days later.

Sechriest admitted he targeted the synagogue because of his hatred of Jews, writing in his journal “I set a synagogue on fire” and that he was actively monitoring media reports to track the progress of the investigation into the fire, prosecutors said.

Sechriest faces up to 20 years in prison at sentencing scheduled for June 23.