HOUSTON, Texas — A Texas judge has found probable cause to hold a Muslim man who is charged with setting the Christmas Day arson fire of his own mosque. He will be held over the weekend pending a second bond hearing set for Monday.
Criminal District Court Judge Jan Krocker is the presiding judge of the 184th Criminal District Court. She found probable cause and also conducted a bond hearing.
Gary Nathaniel Moore was in court this morning for a probable cause determination on charges of first degree felony arson in a place of worship. The judge denied bond until Moore surrenders his passport. He is scheduled to appear on Monday for a hearing to set a bond.
At the hearing today, prosecutors requested that when bond is set a protective order be issued to keep Moore away from the mosque where the arson occurred. Moore’s defense lawyer, Ed Chernoff, asked that Moore have access to another mosque to continue his religious practices as he described Moore as a devout Muslim. The judge granted the defense request and once bond is set Moore will have access to other mosques in the community.
Prosecutors set forth the probable cause against Moore which included the information in the charging instrument.
According to court documents attained by Breitbart Texas, the Charging Instrument (attached below) against Gary Nathaniel Moore charges that Moore:
On or about December 25, 2015, did then and there unlawfully START A FIRE by IGNITING MATERIALS AT HAND with the intent to destroy and damage A PLACE OF WORSHIP LOCATED AT 11246 S WILCREST DR., SUITE 170, HOUSTON, TEXAS, owned by IMRAN MOMIN, and the Defendant KNEW THAT THE PLACE OF WORSHIP WAS LOCATED ON PROPERTY BELONGING TO ANOTHER
It is further presented that, at the time that the Defendant committed the felony offense of ARSON on or about DECEMBER 25, 2015, as hereinabove alleged, he used and exhibited a deadly weapon, namely, a FIRE, during the commission of said offense and during the immediate flight from said offense.
The charging instrument notes that the name of the mosque is the Savoy Masjid Mosque.
It also details that the Houston Fire Department (HFD) responded to a fire about 2:47 p.m. on Christmas Day. A HFD investigator conducted an investigation and determined the fire to have been incendiary with five separate and distinct points of origins.
The mosque was reported to have four doors that allow for both entry and exit – two doors located at the rear of the mosque, and two at the front. The HFD fire investigator recovered a container of charcoal lighter at or near one of the points of origin.
HFD fire investigator A. Rodriguez interviewed the Imam of the mosque, Sulenum Haji Mohammed Aslam, who said the mosque was kept unlocked from 7 am – 7 pm on a daily basis. Aslam also said there were five regular prayer times during the day and the last one had been at 1:00 p.m. Aslam was reported to have stated that he did not know how the fire started. He also told the fire investigator that there should not have been any ignitable liquids inside the mosque.
The defendant, Gary Nathaniel Moore, was interviewed at the scene on Christmas Day. He told Investigator Dorian Green that he had been a member of the mosque for five years and comes to the mosque to pray five times a day, seven days a week. Moore said he walked to the mosque on Christmas Day at about 12:30 p.m. and he said he was the last person to leave the mosque. He was reported to say he did not smell or see any signs of smoke or fire before leaving the mosque. He also said he left at 2:00 p.m. to go home.
The Complaint provides that Moore told the Houston fire investigator “he learned of the fire at the mosque from another member of the mosque who called him at home and brought him back to the mosque.”
Surveillance video was obtained from the owner of a pharmacy located adjacent and directly east of the mosque. The investigator’s statement within the legal document states “a bald headed dark skinned male [was observed to] walk quickly away from the mosque at 2:39 pm.” He was wearing long dark shorts, a white t-shirt, and had a backpack. The Complaint states that video from the same exterior camera showed that three minutes later at 2:42 p.m. that smoke could be observed coming from the camera’s viewing angle. Video footage also shows the same person walking towards the mosque at 12:54 p.m.
Investigator Green looked at surveillance video from another location and positively identified the man leaving the mosque as the same person he spoke to at the scene of the fire on December 25.
On December 28, another investigator showed Saleem Memon, a member of the mosque for eleven years, a surveillance photo of the man leaving the mosque. He positively identified the man as Gary Nathaniel Moore.
On December 29, a search warrant was executed for Moore’s residence located at 10503 Lands End Dr. in Houston and a backpack and clothing that appeared to be the same as Moore had when at the mosque was found.
The Complaint states that a container of charcoal lighter was found at Moore’s residence and it appeared that the fluid had been sold in a pair based on the markings/label on the outside of the contained. An investigator verified that the charcoal lighter contained recovered from Moore’s residence, was compared to that found at the scene “appeared to be the same and both included the same stamped numbers on the exterior of the containers.”
Moore has been charged with a first degree felony. If convicted he could spend up to 99 years in prison or life. Arson is normally a second degree felony punishable by two to twenty years in prison. When it is elevated to a first degree felony, it is punishable by five to 99 years or life in prison if a person sets fire to a place of worship.
Houston criminal defense lawyer Grant Scheiner told Breitbart Texas, “If the court or jury finds that the fire itself to be used as a deadly weapon, Mr. Moore would have to serve at least 50 percent of his sentence before even being eligible for parole.” He said, “In this case the prosecutors have tacked on a deadly weapon accusation, claiming the fire itself was used or intended to be used as something capable of causing death or serious bodily injury.” He added, “Essentially, the prosecutors are claiming, at least in the very beginning of the case, that this is more than a mere property crime.”
Carmen Roe, who is a criminal defense lawyer in Houston that has served as a president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association (HCCLA) told Breitbart Texas, “Although there has been recent increases in hate crimes targeting mosques, Gary Moore does not appear to fit that mold. From all accounts, Moore is a devout Muslim who prayed daily inside this mosque. There is no evidence that hate or religion played any role in this arson. Crimes of hate target a victim because of his or her beliefs or affiliation with a specific group. There is no indication that Moore was targeting Muslims or this mosque based on religious beliefs.”
Roe added, “The bottom line is that everyone wants to make this into a hate crime but it simply is not. This crime was allegedly committed by one of their own and not an outsider who hates Muslims.”