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Augusta Arson Sentencing Prolonged by Dispute Over Witness - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Augusta Arson Sentencing Prolonged by Dispute Over Witness

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A jury has already convicted an Augusta County man of setting fire to a church. Thursday, Paul Cupp returned to court for sentencing, but his hearing turned out to be more than a formality.

What was scheduled as a brief sentencing turned out to be the first in what may be a series of hearings over a defense team effort to strike down the jury's verdict. The issue is a witness's identification, which attorneys want thrown out.

A jury in September found 37-year-old Paul Lenwill Cupp guilty of arson and recommended he serve 8 years behind bars.

He was arrested soon after a small fire caused minor damage to Hildebrand Mennonite Church, back in October 2011. Investigators say he lit a plastic drink bottle filled with gasoline.

Cupp had prior convictions for attempted arson and bomb-making, which may have played a role in the jury's recommendation for a long prison term.

Thursday the defense said a witness identification of the church arsonist was tainted, because it came during a preliminary hearing. Cupp's attorneys argued the courtroom setting made the witness assume that the defendant was responsible for the crime.

The judge will review transcripts from the trial, and likely make a ruling after the holidays.

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