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Navy Reserve veteran pleads guilty to beheading Satanic statue in Iowa State Capitol

A former congressional candidate has pleaded guilty to vandalizing a pagan idol displayed at the Iowa State Capitol last year.

A Mississippi man, and former Republican congressional candidate, pleaded guilty Friday in connection to the vandalism of a statue of a pagan idol at the Iowa state capitol in exchange for the dropping of a hate crime charge. 

Michael Cassidy pleaded guilty to an aggravated misdemeanor count of third-degree criminal mischief, the Des Moines Register reported. He was slated to go to trial on June 3. 

"As you’re likely aware, we have continually contested the hate crime and questioned whether Mr. Cassidy was being targeted due to his religious beliefs," Cassidy's attorney, Sara Pasquale, told Fox News Digital. "We are therefore very pleased that the state ultimately decided to drop the hate crime and are hopeful that this case will bring awareness to similar situations throughout the country."

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Cassidy admitted that he "partially dismantled a display in the Iowa State Capitol Building, "without a right/license to do so" of the statue of the horned deity Baphomet. The statue was brought to the state capitol by the Satanic Temple of Iowa. 

It was destroyed beyond repair, the group said. 

It was displayed under state rules that allow religious displays in the building during holidays. The move angered state and national leaders, including Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and Florida Gov. and then-presidential candidate Ron DeSantis, both Republicans.

"I saw this blasphemous statue and was outraged," Cassidy told the conservative website The Sentinel in December. "My conscience is held captive to the word of God, not to bureaucratic decree. And so I acted."

Under the terms of the plea agreement, Cassidy will receive a deferred judgment with two years probation, an $855 civil penalty and will be ordered to pay restitution in an amount to be determined.

He would also be required to participate in a victim-offender dialogue with representatives of the Satanic Temple if requested. The sentencing recommendation is not binding on the court, however.

Pasquale said she was not sure what motivated prosecutors to drop the hate crime charge. 

"We are simply thankful that Mr. Cassidy no longer faces a hate crime and hopeful that similar, offensive displays will be rejected from places such as state capitol buildings in the future," she said. 

Lynn Hicks, spokesperson for the Polk County Attorney's Office, said several factors were taken into consideration when the plea agreement was offered. 

"Factors can include but are not limited to: taking full accountability for the criminal conduct, cooperation with law enforcement, the availability of evidence, and the defendant’s lack of criminal history," Hicks said in a statement to Fox News Digital. "The agreement included restitution, which can make the victims financially whole, and a victim-offender dialogue, during which the victims will have the opportunity to speak directly with the defendant about what he did and how it affected them."

Fox News Digital has reached out to the temple.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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