Jury Deliberates as Man Self-Represents in Arizona Church Arson Trial, Citing Biblical Defense and Unfair Treatment

TUCSON, Ariz. — The trial of Eric Ridenour, who stands accused of arson targeting two local churches, has reached a critical juncture as jurors commenced deliberations after days of dramatic courtroom testimonies and fervent closing arguments.

Ridenour, representing himself in court, faced allegations of setting ablaze St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church and First Presbyterian Church in Douglas last year. Prosecutors aimed to cement his guilt with video evidence and eyewitness testimonials which suggested his presence at the crime scenes.

Authorities recounted the sequence of events where surveillance footage purportedly captured a blue Pontiac Aztec, consistent with Ridenour’s vehicle, arriving and departing near the churches as smoke began billowing shortly thereafter. Assistant U.S. Attorney Austin Fenwick highlighted this footage during his presentation to the eight women and four men on the jury panel, suggesting no plausible alternative to Ridenour’s direct involvement.

Nuances of motive were explored with references to Ridenour’s prior visit to St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, where he vocally criticized church policies, including the appointment of female pastors and acceptance of LGBTQ+ individuals. This visit reportedly occurred following his discovery that Reverend Caleb Collins, a pastor at the church, was married to another man.

The trial also saw personal reflections from church local leadership. The Right Reverend Jennifer Reddall, Episcopal Bishop of Arizona, expressed her concerns about Ridenour during the proceedings. “I feel like he’s a danger to me, right, because of what he seems to have done to my churches and the opinions he’s expressed,” she stated, advocating for a conviction to ensure community safety.

Defending his actions, Ridenour turned to biblical passages during his closing argument, specifically citing the Book of Matthew. He challenged the credibility of the trial based on religious grounds, arguing against the oath taken by witnesses, which included Pastor Peggy Christiansen and Reverend Collins.

As the jury deliberated the complex case, they adjourned without a verdict by late afternoon. Deliberations are set to resume early the next day, with the community and involved parties anxiously awaiting a resolution.

This high-profile case not only underscores the tensions surrounding religious beliefs and church leadership but also poses critical questions about the justice system’s handling of cases wherein the defendant chooses to self-represent. The outcome could potentially impact local church security measures and interfaith relations within the Douglas community.