Suspect in Louisiana African-American church fires pleads guilty in federal court

Louisiana News

FILE – This file booking image provided by the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal shows Holden Matthews, who was arrested Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in connection with suspicious fires at three historic black churches in southern Louisiana. Matthews is scheduled for a change-of-plea hearing Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, in federal court, where he faces hate crime charges. (Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal via AP, File)

LAFAYETTE, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – The man accused of setting fire to three churches in south Louisiana has pleaded guilty, according to U.S. Attorney David C. Joseph.

Holden Matthews, 22, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Lafayette to intentionally setting fire to three Baptist churches because of the religious character of those buildings.

Specifically, Matthews 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.

The fires, which Matthews set over a ten-day period in March and April of 2019, completely destroyed each of the church buildings. U.S. District Court Judge Robert R. Summerhays presided over the hearing. 

At the plea hearing, Matthews admitted that, between March 26 and April 4, 2019, he intentionally set fire to three Baptist churches with predominantly African-American congregations in the Opelousas, Louisiana area.

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

The fires Matthews set destroyed each of the church buildings. 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. 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.

Matthews, who will be sentenced on May 22, faces up to 70 years in prison, with the first 10 mandatory.

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