*Sometime before he was convicted of torching a predominantly black church, the signs of a budding and bitter racist were there, a prosecutor said Wednesday.

Benjamin F. Haskell, 23, one of three Springfield men accused of burning the Macedonia Church of God in Christ hours after the 2008 presidential election, pleaded guilty to a civil rights violation and destroying religious property.

He will likely serve nine years in federal prison under a plea agreement.

During a hearing in U.S. District Court, a prosecutor offered examples of what he described as “a deep well of racial animus” that propelled Haskell to destroy the building.

Haskell admitted stealing through the woods behind one of his alleged co-conspirator’s homes and helping to drench the partially constructed church with gasoline – setting off a huge blaze in a residential neighborhood off Tinkham Road. Investigators said he and two friends, rankled over the election of President Barack H. Obama, set the fire in protest.

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