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Published: Monday, October 21, 2013 @ 2:47 PM
Updated: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 @ 10:25 AM
NORTH HAMPTON, Ohio — A self-described militant atheist with a criminal past faces multiple charges after an attack on a pastor who, after his sermon, had asked the man's girlfriend if she felt safe.
James Maxie, 28, of Springfield, Ohio, is charged with second-degree felonious assault and misdemeanor resisting arrest after an incident Sunday at The Bridge Community Church in North Hampton.
Police Chief Jarrod Campbell said in his 11 years with the department, he's rarely dealt with "an incident this brutal."
The Rev. Norman Hayes, 57, said he feared for his life and begged for the attack to stop. Hayes suffered a broken nose, bruises and three long cuts that required stitches across his face.
"I questioned his girlfriend in his presence if she felt safe," Hayes said. "He was very, very upset that I'd even suggest that he would hurt her. Then he turned around and hurt me very badly."
Hayes said Maxie was argumentative and confrontational during the service.
"It looked like he was looking for an argument," Hayes said.
Maxie and the girlfriend, who attends the church, approached Hayes after the service. She told police that Hayes asked her if Maxie was abusing her, and Maxie became furious, striking pastor several times in the face in the church hallway.
"He came from nowhere and hit me ... and knocked me down, and then he got on top of me and just kept hitting me over and over," Hayes said. He pleaded for the beating to stop, stating he thought Maxie would kill him.
"It was fortunate he did stop," Hayes said. "I really believe my life was in danger if he hadn't stopped hitting me in the face over and over."
Maxie and his girlfriend left the church on foot, and Maxie ran into a cornfield after he was spotted by two North Hampton officers who were responding to the scene. The Clark County Sheriff's Office assisted in the search for Maxie, and a deputy located him hiding behind a home. He was booked into the Clark County Jail.
It's not believed Maxie used any sort of object or weapon in the attack, just his fists, Campbell said. Injuries on Maxie's right hand were consistent with repeated punching. The brutality of the beating in addition to the location are why police charged Maxie with a felony, Campbell said.
"Churches are somewhere where people go to worship their particular religion, and violence is usually the last thing you see," he said.
Campbell is working with the Clark County Prosecutor's Office to see if additional charges should be filed.
Maxie served two years in prison after being convicted of felonious assault. He's also a convicted sex offender, charged with unlawful sexual conduct with a minor in Clark County, and was sentenced to five years of probation, beginning in October 2008, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. In 2004, Maxie was charged with four counts of cruelty to animals in Springfield.
A self-described militant atheist, according to his Facebook page, a day before the assault Maxie shared a photo from another page titled, "I'm proud to be Atheist." Hayes said Maxie made comments about Hitler and religion prior to the church service.
In a statement Maxie wrote to police, he said he was "trying to regain my faith in God," and went to hear Hayes' sermon. He said he "asked questions about science and faith," and claimed the statements offended Hayes. Maxie said Hayes said his girlfriend was "going to hell for dating me."
"That's when I made the worst mistake ever," Maxie wrote.
The assault left Hayes with 3-inch to 6-inch cuts over his left and right eyes, and his right eye was bruised and swollen shut, the report said. He had an inch-long cut behind his left ear, and his nose was bruised, bloody and swollen. Hayes said he broke his nose in two places. At Maxie's arraignment Monday, Hayes' right eye was still swollen shut. Hayes said he will need to revisit doctors to check for brain bleeding.
Hayes believes "the best thing" for Maxie is to be in a place where "he is not going to hurt anyone else."
"We believe there is hope for everyone," Hayes said, "but we also believe that regardless of that, people need to pay for what they have done, and I hope he has to pay for what he has done. Get put away for a while and not hurt anyone else. In my opinion, the next person won't be as lucky as I was.
Hayes requested a protection order against Maxie, which was granted by Judge Denise Moody. Maxie is being detained in jail in lieu of a $51,000 bond.