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Cupp Arson Trial Day 1 - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Cupp Arson Trial Day 1

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An Augusta County man with arson and bomb-making convictions is now standing trial for allegedly setting fire to a church.  

Paul Lenwill Cupp of Crimora faces a single charge of arson and up to 10 years in prison if convicted at the end of the two-day jury trial.      

The defense calls the case against 36-year-old Cupp "supposition and what-ifs", saying prosecutors have a circumstantial case, since there were no eyewitnesses to the fire and no fingerprints or DNA connecting anyone to the crime.  

Prosecutors say they do have plenty of physical evidence and Cupp's own statements that they're weaving together for a circumstantial case.    

Cupp was arrested last October, just three days after a small fire damaged the exterior of Hildebrand Mennonite Church near Hermitage. No one was hurt.    

A Virginia State Police arson investigator says an incendiary device made from a plastic drink bottle filled with gasoline touched off the fire. A red, oil-soaked rag served as a wick.    

Police say they found very similar rags in Cupp's house and the pickup truck he was driving. One witness said he noticed the same truck parked next to the church around the time of the fire. When investigators first arrived at Cupp's house, he reportedly said he was expecting them.    

Cupp was convicted in federal court in 1996 for placing a bomb inside the post office in Grottoes and served four years.  He spent another five years behind bars after trying to blow up a Rockingham County gas station in 2004. The device he used in that case was similar to the one that damaged the Hildebrand church.    

The Augusta County jury is not allowed to hear about Cupp's prior convictions. But the judge did allow them to hear testimony from police, who say Cupp admitted building and lighting Molotov cocktails, and watching them burn. 

During opening statements Wednesday, defense attorneys said Cupp had at least one alibi for the night of the church fire. We should hear more about that as the defense presents its case Thursday.

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