CHICAGO — A self-described ‘militant atheist’ who brutally beat an Ohio pastor last fall has been sentenced to eight years behind bars for committing felonious assault.
As previously reported, Norman Hayes of Bridge Community Church in North Hampton told reporters last October that following a Sunday church service, James Maxie, 28, and his girlfriend came to talk to him. When Hayes asked the woman if she was being abused, the man reportedly became angry and punched him to the floor.
“He was very, very upset that I’d even suggest that he would hurt her,” Hayes told the Dayton Daily News. “Then he turned around and hurt me very badly.”
Police Chief Jarrod Campbell remarked to the publication that he has rarely seen “an incident this brutal.”
As Hayes lay on the floor, Maxie sat on top of him and repeatedly beat him until Hayes began to fear for his life. He begged Maxie to stop.
“It was fortunate he did stop,” Hayes explained. “I really believe my life was in danger if he hadn’t stopped hitting me in the face over and over.”
Maxie then fled on foot into a nearby cornfield and was later found hiding behind a house. He told police that he had gone to church to seek God, but claims that Hayes told his girlfriend that she was “going to Hell for dating me.” Maxie said that’s when he made the “mistake” of beating the pastor to the floor.
Hayes suffered a broken nose in two places, and cuts and bruises around his eyes and ears, some of which required stitches.
Last month, Maxie accepted a plea deal in Clark County Common Pleas Court, agreeing to plead guilty to second degree felony assault in exchange for having a charge of resisting arrest dropped. On Wednesday, he faced his official sentencing before the court, receiving eight years behind bars for his crime.
“I’ve totally ruined my life,” Maxie read from an apology written on crumpled paper, according to local television station WDTN. “My girlfriend watched in terror as I did this. My girlfriend’s family suffered. My mom and dad suffered the embarrassment of what I did.”
Hayes told reporters following the sentencing that he forgives Maxie.
“I would want him to know going into prison hearing from me that I’ve extended forgiveness for him,” he said. “[Forgiveness] is a gift. It’s something that you can’t earn.”
“I really do hope that he will learn the lesson that life is not just about yourself. It’s about how what I do affects other people,” Hayes stated.
The church has put new security measures in place since the incident.