Louisiana man pleads guilty to burning 3 historically black churches

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A Louisiana man pleaded guilty in federal court Monday to intentionally setting three historically black churches on fire early last year.

Holden Matthews, 22, said he burned the churches to raise his profile as a “black metal” musician, according to a press release from the Department of Justice. The genre became inextricably linked to the crime after a series of high-profile church burnings were committed in Norway in the early 1990s.

Holden Matthews, 22, pleaded guilty 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.

Holden Matthews, 22, pleaded guilty 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.
(Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal)

Matthews, the son of a St. Landry Parish deputy, admitted to burning down three Baptist churches in Port Barre and Opelousas between March 26 and April 4, 2019. He said he burned down the predominantly African American churches because of the religious character of the buildings. All three were completely destroyed.

Matthews also admitted to posting photographs and videos on Facebook that showed the first two churches burning after setting the third on fire, according to the DOJ. He said he had taken these photographs and videos in real time on his cell phone.

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“The Department of Justice will remain unwavering in its protection of the freedom to practice religion without the threat of discrimination or violence,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “[Matthews’] disgraceful conduct violated the civil rights of the church’s parishioners and harmed their communities.”

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Matthews is charged with 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.

His sentencing is scheduled for May 22, 2020. He faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a statutory maximum sentence of 70 years in prison if convicted.

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