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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, February 05, 2013 12:24 pm

2 St. Lucians plead guilty in fatal church attack

By GUY ELLISAssociated Press

Two men pleaded guilty Tuesday to manslaughter while facing a new trial for setting worshippers on fire and killing a nun and priest during a New Year's Eve Mass in 2000.

Kim John and Francis Philip are scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 13, but they no longer face the death penalty. Murder convicts whose appeals last longer than five years automatically face life sentences instead of hanging.

Defense attorney Al Elliott, who is representing John, said the two men could receive a lesser sentence if the judge takes into account their psychiatric reports and other mitigating factors.

The men were retried after Britain's Privy Council, the highest court of appeal for many former Caribbean colonies, upheld an argument that they were insane.

The crimes are considered one of the most heinous in the history of the eastern Caribbean island.

Police said the men stormed the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 31, 2000, carrying flaming torches and dousing worshippers with gasoline. They were accused of fatally beating Sister Theresa Egan, 73, with a piece of wood and setting on fire Rev. Charles Gaillard, 62. Thirteen worshippers also suffered burns, some of them so serious that the victims had to be treated overseas.

Police said the men told them they were Rastafarian prophets sent by God to fight corruption in the Catholic Church. Philip laughed during their first trial in 2003, and John told the judge he would rather go to the grave "than be a slave in your evil society."

During the new trial, neither John nor Philip spoke except when entering their pleas. No victims were present in the courtroom this time.

The basilica still serves as the island's main Catholic Church and is located across the street from the courthouse in the capital of Castries.