Guilty plea in burning of historic North Dakota church

BISMARCK, N.D. – A 22-year-old man faces federal prison time after pleading guilty to starting a fire that destroyed a historic church on the Fort Berthold Reservation.

According to court records, a federal grand jury charged Rode Vocu with setting fire to the Elbowoods Memorial Congregational Church near White Shield on the morning of April 22.

Vocu changed his plea at a hearing Sept. 3. He will be sentenced Dec. 9, and faces somewhere between two and a half and just over three years in prison, based on the binding plea agreement.

A federal prosecutor tells Your News Leader it will be up to the court to determine a fine, though Rocu would likely end up paying restitution.

They say Vocu is out of custody in a halfway house, pending sentencing.

Fire crews did what they could to salvage the church, but by the time they arrived on scene, the roof had already collapsed and the walls were caving in.

The church, built in 1926, was a total loss. Those who oversaw the structure had restorations planned this summer.