An Alarmingly Odd Case Involving a Firebomb & a Buddhist Temple
October 7, 2021 Don Pumphrey, Jr. Criminal Defense Social Share
On September 26, Mei Cheung, a Palm Beach County woman was arrested for igniting and throwing firebombs at a Buddhist temple. Video surveillance on the property revealed she was throwing the firebombs, also often referred to as “Molotov cocktails” over the gate towards the temple, as well as placing a firebomb in a mailbox on the property. She fled the scene, and when police arrived, they found the firebombs burning on the temple grounds. The firebombs were made out of glass bottles filled with citronella torch fuel and pieces of clothes that were used as wicks to ignite bombs. The incident resulted in damage to the mailbox, however, the temple itself was not damaged. Cheung was charged with five counts of using a firebomb and one count of criminal mischief at a place of worship. Interestingly, Cheung’s family commented on the matter, stating that she suffers from mental illness and began acting abnormal after she went to the temple in 2016 and “kept saying something went inside her.” Detectives are in the process of speaking with the State Attorney’s Office to determine whether the charges will be enhanced.
Reasons why Cheung targeted the temple grounds with the firebombs, including allegedly spray-painting vulgarities on the temple gate weeks prior, are currently unknown. However, such an odd situation leads to other questions like, what is a firebomb? Also, does criminal mischief at a religious facility result in greater criminal penalties than non-religious facilities?
What is a Firebomb in Florida?
Section 806.111 of the Florida Statutes codifies prohibited use of firebombs and defines them as:
“A container containing flammable or combustible liquid, or any incendiary chemical mixture or compound having a wick or similar device capable of being ignited or other means capable of causing ignition; but no device commercially manufactured primarily for the purpose of illumination, heating, or cooking shall be deemed to be such a firebomb.”
Anyone who possesses, manufactures, transports, or disposes of a firebomb with intent that such firebomb be willfully and unlawfully used to damage by fire or explosion any structure or property is guilty of a felony of the third-degree, punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment and a fine up to $5,000. The term “disposes” means to give, give away, loan, offer, offer for sale, sell, or transfer.
Firebombs are most often used to cause property damage. However, the use of fireworks, which are much more frequently used by the public for entertainment, can also lead to criminal repercussions. If you would like to read more about the law regarding fireworks in Florida, click here.
Criminal Mischief at a Place of Worship
Generally, a person commits the offense of criminal mischief if he or she willfully and maliciously injures or damages by any means any real or personal property belonging to another, including, but not limited to, the placement of graffiti thereon or other acts of vandalism thereto.
The penalties that result from criminal mischief are dependent on the amount of damage to a property. If you would like to read more about the penalties, as well as enhanced penalties for repeated convictions of criminal mischief, click here.
Under Section 803.13(2) of the Florida Statutes, any person who willfully and maliciously defaces, injures, or damages by any means any church, synagogue, mosque, or other place of worship, or any religious article contained therein, commits a third-degree felony. This is punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment and up to a $5,000 fine. The same sanction applies to defacing, injuring, or damaging a memorial or historic property.
Tallahassee Criminal Defense Attorney
Whether you are facing charges involving a firebomb, criminal mischief at a place of worship, or criminal mischief on other property, it is imperative that you retain an experienced and knowledgeable Tallahassee criminal defense attorney that will zealously advocate on your behalf. Don Pumphrey and the members of the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have years of experience defending juvenile offenders against criminal charges in Florida. Call us today at (850) 681-7777 or send an online message today to discuss your case during an open and free consultation with an attorney in our legal team.
This article was written by Sarah Kamide