La. man pleads guilty to burning three historically black churches in St. Landry Parish

La. man pleads guilty to burning three historically black churches in St. Landry Parish
Holden Matthews pleaded guilty before United States District Court Judge Robert R. Summerhays to three counts of violating the Church Arson Prevention Act — one count for each church — as well as one count of using fire to commit a federal felony. He will be sentenced on May 22. He faces a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison, and a maximum sentence of 70 years.

LAFAYETTE, La. (KPLC) - Holden Matthews pleaded guilty in federal court Monday morning to burning three historically black churches in St. Landry Parish in March and April of 2019.

Matthews, 22, copied similar fires in Norway in the 1990s in an effort to promote himself as a “Black Metal” musician, according to a news release from Mona Hardwick, public affairs specialist with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Western District of Louisiana. All three churches were destroyed.

Matthews pleaded guilty before United States District Court Judge Robert R. Summerhays to three counts of violating the Church Arson Prevention Act — one count for each church — as well as one count of using fire to commit a federal felony. He will be sentenced on May 22. He faces a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison, and a maximum sentence of 70 years.

Matthews then pleaded guilty in state court Monday afternoon to three counts of hate crimes, two counts of simple arson and one count of aggravated arson. The charges are related to the same acts, according to Don Richard, assistant district attorney with the St. Landry District Attorney’s Office.

Matthews will be sentenced in state court on May 26. Richard said whatever sentence he faces in state court will run concurrently with his federal sentence.

Matthews set fire to St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, on March 26, 2019. He set fire to the Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas, on April 2, 2019. Then, on April 4, 2019, Matthews set fire to the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas.

“Matthews admitted to setting the fires because of the religious character of these buildings, in an effort to raise his profile as a 'Black Metal’ musician by copying similar crimes committed in Norway in the 1990s,” according to Hardwick. “Matthews further admitted that, after setting the third fire, he posted photographs and videos on Facebook that showed the first two churches burning. Matthews admitted that he had taken these photographs and videos in real time on his cell phone, as he watched those churches burn, and that he had posted them to Facebook in an effort to promote himself in the Black Metal community.”

The NACCP released the following statement:

"The hate crimes committed by Holden Matthews in St. Landry Parrish, Louisiana, serve as a stark reminder of the current climate in America that is rife with racism and anti-blackness. Far too often, Black communities find themselves subjected to the ills of white supremacists that seek to diminish and hinder our hope, progress, and standing in this country. This act of domestic terrorism proves to be no different. Holden’s targeting of Black churches is a microcosm of the attitude toward others in America who don’t identify as white — fueled by the divisive policies and rhetoric of those in elected office.

“Churches are incredibly influential in Black culture and serve as a safe space for convening. All Americans deserve to feel safe in their churches, schools, and homes. Hate crimes such as these must be investigated and prosecuted fully at the local and federal level. The NAACP will continue to push Congress for additional hearings and concrete next steps to thwart acts of domestic terrorism against communities of color.”

This case was investigated by the ATF’s National Response Team, the Lafayette Satellite Office of the ATF’s New Orleans Field Division, the Lafayette Resident Agency of the FBI’s New Orleans Field Office, the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal, the Louisiana State Police, the Louisiana Bureau of Investigation’s Cyber Crimes Unit, the St. Landry Parish Fire Department, and the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office.

“Holden Matthews made a conscious decision to randomly target and destroy churches within his own community,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Bryan Vorndran said in a news release. “His atrocious actions inflicted severe pain and grief upon these congregations, as well as all of St. Landry Parish. Throughout this investigation, the men and women of the FBI, ATF, Louisiana State Fire Marshal’s Office, St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office, St. Landry Parish District Attorney’s Office, Louisiana State Police, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry’s Cybercrime Unit, and the Florida State Fire Marshal’s Office worked tirelessly to bring Holden Matthews to justice.”

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