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Police call church theft and vandalism a hate crime

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Westport police said Monday that a case of church theft and vandalism rose to the level of a hate crime.

Martin Cutler was arraigned Monday on a slew of charges, including desecration of a place of worship.

Police said Cutler and his brother, Jesse Cutler, ransacked St. John the Baptist Church in Westport the first weekend of March.

Police said the Cutlers stole sacred items, such as chalices and a tabernacle, and that the two had help after the fact.

"Other people were involved in driving them away from the scene, and then the mother concealed items in her home that she knew that same weekend were stolen from the church," Westport Detective Jeff Majewski said.

In addition to Cutler's mother's home in New Bedford, police said they recovered other stolen items from Cutler's friend's car in Mattapoisett.

All of it was damaged beyond use.

"One of the local churches gave us everything we needed for celebrating Mass the next day, and I very much appreciate the parishioners of St. Francis in Swansea," said the Rev. Leonard Hindsley, pastor of St. John the Baptist.

Hindsley said he's grateful arrests were made.

"It helps to bring closure, healing. It's quite a violation to have this happen in your parish. The Eucharist was stolen," Hindsley said.

The suspects are being charged with a hate crime. Police say that's because they did more than just steal.

"Breaking the crucifix, urinating into the holy water, stealing of the prayer book," Majewski said.

Police called the crime despicable, but Martin Cutler's fiancee defended the defendant.

"I just know somebody put his name out there, and what's being done isn't right. There's no way I'm going to be able to get him out," Vanessa Duffy said.

Police said Jesse Cutler is facing the same charges. He has not yet been arraigned.

Cutler's friend, whose car had the items, was charged with receiving stolen property, and Cutler's mother was charged as an accessory.

Police said more charges could come against others as this investigation continues.

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