A federal judge released a Massachusetts man on Wednesday to home confinement after he was accused of trying to set fire to a Jewish-sponsored assisted living center.
Judge Katherine Robertson released John Michael Rathbun, 36, shortly after he was charged with attempted arson.
The judge’s decision garnered a written objection from Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Breslow, who wrote that Robertson’s decision to release Rathbun “appears to have been greatly influenced by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”
In-depth news coverage of the Greater Boston Area.
Breslow added that while the pandemic has created “laudable” concerns, the reasoning is not a sound basis for releasing the East Longmeadow resident, who presents both a flight risk and a risk to public safety.
Officers found a full gas canister that had a Christian religious pamphlet burned out in the nozzle at the entrance of Ruth’s House in Longmeadow on April 2.
Authorities then discovered blood stains on the canister and pamphlet and traced the DNA back to Rathbun, according to a police affidavit.
Prosecutors described the alleged crime as an act of anti-Semitic violence.
The Boston Globe reported that Rathbun’s federal public defender declined to comment, except to say that he’d be filing a written response to prosecutors’ objection to the release order.
Ruth’s House is a Jewish-sponsored assisted living center for seniors of all faiths, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts. It’s located within 1 square mile of several other Jewish facilities, including three Jewish temples, a Jewish private school and a Jewish Community Center.
The attorney’s office said the center was being discussed on white supremacist online platforms before the gas can was found.