FOUR arrested in string of arson fires

Tuesday, August 21st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

(ARDMORE) - Four people who claim to be part of a satanic group were being held Tuesday in connection with a rash of arson fires in Carter County, including one that destroyed a church.

Donnie James Clayburn, 19, and Alesha Michelle Denham, 28, were arrested Monday, Carter County Sheriff Harvey Burkhart said. Two others, Krista Lane Huffaker, 19, and Phillip John Tovar, 21, had been arrested early Saturday for allegedly desecrating more than 70 graves at a local cemetery.

The Milo Baptist Church was destroyed by fire early Aug. 13. In the days before and after, two private residences also were set on fire, a number of grass fires were set, and the Gene Autry Baptist Church, a school in Springer and the Gene Autry Museum were vandalized.

The sheriff's office received a tip Friday night that led authorities to question Huffaker. That interview led to the other three, Burkhart said.

``It is a big relief, especially when you're talking about just right at a week that we were able to make these arrests,'' the sheriff said. ``Sometimes you never catch 'em. We were hoping there was more than one, because usually when there's more than one somebody talks, and that's what happened.''

Clayburn and Tovar were being held on arson and burglary charges, with bond set at $500,000 on each charge for each man. Denham and Huffaker were charged with one count of burglary and two counts of arson, with the same bond set.

Burkhart said the four admitted they had contemplated a number of other crimes against churches.

``They said they had discussed burning a church somewhere in the Sulphur area but decided not to because an occupied house was too close by,'' he said. ``They also discussed burning a black church and said they would like to be compared to Bonnie and Clyde.''

The four say they are members of a group called Satan Worship Church. Clayburn claims to be the ``high priest'' of the group, Burkhart said.