Man pleads not guilty to torching historic California church

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A man with a history of arson-related arrests pleaded not guilty Thursday to setting a fire that caused millions of dollars in damage to a historic Southern California Roman Catholic mission.

John David Corey, 57, is charged with breaking in and setting a July 11 pre-dawn blaze that engulfed the rooftop and most of the interior of the San Gabriel Mission, east of Los Angeles, as it was undergoing renovations to mark its upcoming 250th anniversary celebration.

He entered pleas in Los Angeles to two counts of arson of an inhabited structure and one count each of arson during a state of emergency, first-degree residential burglary and possession of flammable material.

Police have yet to give a motive for Corey’s actions taken on the church, but it follows a number of past fire-related incidents that have been sparked by Corey in the San Gabriel area of California. 

Corey was arrested two days after the fire on suspicion of trying to burn a San Gabriel business after authorities received a call about a man pouring an unknown liquid substance on a building. He pleaded no contest and was sentenced that September to three years in jail, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune reported. Authorities say they later tied him to the church blaze.

In addition to arson, is a laundry list of previous convictions including burglary, grand theft, receiving stolen property, vandalism and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Corey has been described as homeless.

He is expected to return to court on June 21. His bail is currently set at $250,000.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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