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Mississippi man accused of destroying statue of pagan idol at Iowa state Capitol takes plea deal

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A Mississippi man accused of destroying a statue of a pagan idol at Iowa’s state Capitol pleaded guilty Friday to a reduced charge in return for prosecutors dropping a felony hate crime count.

Michael Cassidy, a former congressional and legislative candidate, was set for trial June 3, but his attorney filed a guilty plea on his behalf to an aggravated misdemeanor count of third-degree criminal mischief, the Des Moines Register reported. Cassidy admitted in writing that he “partially dismantled a display in the Iowa State Capitol Building, without a right/license to do so,” and that the damage was greater than $750.

The statue of the horned deity Baphomet was brought to the Capitol by the Satanic Temple of Iowa under state rules allowing religious displays in the building during the holidays. The move drew strong criticism from state and national leaders, including Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and Florida Gov. and then-presidential candidate Ron DeSantis, both Republicans.

On Dec. 14, the figure depicting the horned deity Baphomet was “destroyed beyond repair,” according to the group.

“I saw this blasphemous statue and was outraged,” Cassidy told the conservative website The Sentinel in December. “My conscience is held captive to the word of God, not to bureaucratic decree. And so I acted.”

Cassidy raised more than $134,000 for his defense via the Christian fundraising site GiveSendGo, where supporters said he acted with “bravery and conviction. He was not willing to see God reviled, especially in a building where lawmakers are supposed to honor Jesus Christ as King and look to his law for wisdom as they legislate with justice and righteousness.”

Founded in 2013, the Salem, Massachusetts-based Satanic Temple says it doesn’t believe in Satan but describes itself as a “non-theistic religious organization” that advocates for secularism. It is separate from the Church of Satan, which was founded in the 1960s.

The plea agreement calls for Cassidy to receive a deferred judgment with two years probation, an $855 civil penalty, and to pay restitution in an amount to be determined. He would also be required to participate in a victim-offender dialogue with representatives of the Satanic Temple if requested. The sentencing recommendation is not binding on the court, however.

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