08-03-88 05:19 ped Swami's arson conviction upheld MOUNDSVILLE, W.Va. (UPI) _ A federal ap

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08-03-88 05:19 ped Swami's arson conviction upheld MOUNDSVILLE, W.Va. (UPI) _ A federal appeals court has upheld an arson conviction against Thomas Drescher, a Hare Krishna swami serving a life prison sentence at the West Virginia Penitentiary for murder. U.S. Attorney William Kolibash reported the finding of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday. A federal jury in December found Drescher guilty of burning a rental apartment building near Moundsville. Drescher, a former member of the Hare Krishna's New Vrindaban community in Marshall County, also goes by the title Tirtha Swami. The jury found that he burned the structure July 14, 1983 to collect some $40,000 in insurance money. On appeal, Drescher contended that he should not have been held to federal arson charges because the building was not used in interstate commerce. He also said the U.S. Attorney's office should not have been allowed to prosecute him because an assistant federal prosecutor with the office had represented him in connection with a murder indictment. Robert McWilliams, the assistant U.S. attorney, was working as a Marshall County public defender when Drescher was brought up on murder charges. The 4th Circuit ruled that an "effective wall" had been built between McWilliams and those members of the federal prosecutor's office handling the Drescher case. The court also denied the swami's contention that the federal arson law could not be used in his prosecution. The ruling stated that the congressional intent in enacting the law was to protect all business properties from arsonists _ not just those used in interstate commerce. Kolibash said Drescher is currently serving a 10-year sentence on the arson conviction, handed him by U.S. District Judge William Kidd. The sentence is running concurrently with the swami's life imprisonment for a murder convinction in 1986. Drescher was convicted of murdering Krishna devotee Charles St. Denis. He is currently fighting extradition to California, where he is wanted in connection with the shooting death of Krishna dissident Steven Bryant.

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