A Massachusetts man with a lengthy rap sheet is facing charges in connection to the desecration of a 150-year-old crucifixion sculpture after he was caught on video Tuesday using it as a swing outside a historic Catholic church.
Michael Patzelt, 37, of Attleboro was arraigned Wednesday in Boston Municipal Court on numerous charges including assault, malicious destruction of property and injury to a church/synagogue over $5,000, CBS News Boston reported.
Video of the brazen vandalism – which prosecutors say sustained about $20,000 in damage – shows the now-armless statue of Jesus Christ being swung to and fro by suspect outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston’s South End.
Patzelt has a lengthy record of vandalism and assaults in both Massachusetts and Florida.
He has also been charged with attacking a woman who was walking outside the Cathedral with her son and following another woman the same night as the vandalism.
“He decided to come toward me,” Tashana Watson told the outlet. “I pushed him four times to get him away and he grabbed my hair and hat and threw it. He tried to have a conversation to the effect ‘just shoot me’. I don’t know if he said it to me or my child.”
Watson was able to escape unscathed, only learning about the vandalism hours later.
“It’s sad, it’s an historic landmark. I’m a parishioner, my grandmother went here. The attack makes you feel anything can be open for attack,” Watson said.
Before police arrived, stunned witnesses attempted to step in and pull Patzelt to the ground.
Samuel Copans called the incident a violent struggle, and said Patzelt was swearing and saying “he could do what he wanted to do.” The priest then came out and Patzelt said vulgar things to him, Copans added.
Patzelt is being held on $5,000 cash bail, which is ten times more than prosecutors had requested.
The charges reportedly alarmed Judge Paul Treseler who questioned if the crime was the “issue of a depraved heart or a very sick mind.”
The defense says Patzelt is homeless and unemployed after his grandmother recently passed away.
“He is remorseful about what occurred and the fact he has found himself in this position,” said defense attorney Joana Stathi.
The Archdiocese of Boston said in a statement that it will work with the church to “assess the damages,” NBC Boston reported.
“I have no information regarding why someone would take such an action,” the Archdiocese noted in the statement.
Patzelt is due back in court on Nov. 30.
Dedicated in 1875, the Cathedral of the Holy Cross is the largest church in New England and serves as the main church of the Archdiocese of Boston.
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