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Man accused of burning down Bonners Ferry church released to his mother’s home

UPDATED: Wed., Feb. 22, 2017

A cross made of steel breaks loose as crews continued to battle the arson blaze at St. Ann's Catholic Church in Bonners Ferry on Thursday, April 21, 2016. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
A cross made of steel breaks loose as crews continued to battle the arson blaze at St. Ann's Catholic Church in Bonners Ferry on Thursday, April 21, 2016. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

The man accused of burning down St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Bonners Ferry last spring will be released from jail but remain under strict monitoring, a federal judge in Idaho ruled Wednesday.

Shane Rucker, 33, asked to be released and the prosecution agreed.

Rucker struggles with mental health issues and will be released into his mother’s care Thursday.

He will be subject to GPS tracking, searches and must abide by a no-contact order with his ex-wife. Additionally, he must have regular contact with mental health professionals, will have limited social media access, will not be allowed to consume drugs and alcohol and must have regular contact with his probation officer, among other restrictions.

His mother, Sherry Nash, will be his custodian and will be responsible for reporting Rucker to the authorities if he violates any of the conditions of his release.

“I’ve turned him in in the past,” she said, when asked if she would be able to effectively monitor her son.

Rucker’s defense attorney, Amy Rubin, said during the past six months Rucker has been diagnosed with mental health issues and began treatment, which has been effective.

“He understands now what is wrong with him,” Nash said in court. “Previous to that he did not understand why he heard voices or why he did what he did.”

Nash declined to disclose Rucker’s specific mental illness diagnosis.

Rucker moved into his mother’s Sandpoint home in August. Prior to that he’d been partly homeless for up two years, mostly residing in or around the Bonners Ferry area, Rubin said.

Nash said Rucker called her in August asking for help, at which time he moved in to her home.

“We have tried, in the past, to get him help,” Nash said, adding that at those times he wouldn’t cooperate.

Now, it’s different, she said. Rucker recognizes that he needs help and has been voluntarily taking medication and working with mental health counselors. As evidence of his improvement she said Rucker no longer forgets things and is calmer. Prior to starting treatment Nash said Rucker couldn’t focus long enough to fry an egg, now he can cook dinner, she said in court.

She said Rucker served in the Marines and suffers from PTSD, although he has not been diagnosed with that. She believes some of his problems can be attributed to his military service.

Attorney Mike Mitchell, who was standing in for Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci Whelan, said his office agreed to the release terms and withdrew a motion to detain Rucker, because he’s progressing with his mental health treatment and doesn’t pose a threat to the community.

The April arson is being prosecuted under the Church Arson Prevention Act, which was passed by Congress in 1996 in response to fires set at churches in the South.

About 150 families attended the Bonners Ferry church, which had recently been renovated. Following the fire the congregation used the nearby United Methodist church

but now meets in three trailers pushed together, said the Rev. Carlos Perez earlier this month.

Nash said her son doesn’t pose a threat to the community and is suffering from a debilitating mental illness.

“He is absolutely not a danger,” she said.

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