Suspect in 3 Louisiana Black Church Fires Charged with Federal Hate Crimes

A 21-year-old man is charged with six counts of federal hate crimes after he was linked to the burning of three Louisiana Black churches in March and April. The crimes occurred within a span of 10 days with evidence pointing at him as the suspect. He pled not guilty to all charges. 

Evidence pointing to a suspect responsible for burning three Louisiana churches has led to his indictment for charges in relation to hate crimes. 

21-YEAR-OLD PLEADS NOT GUILTY TO THREE CHURCH FIRES 

21-year-old Holden James Matthews now faces the threat of spending at least 20 years in prison if proven he was guilty in setting fire to three Black churches in a span of 10 days between March and April. 

Matthews, who plead not guilty to federal hate crime charges reportedly used gasoline to set ablaze the Greater Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas, and St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre. The crimes were committed on March 26, April 2 and April 4 respectively. 

If convicted, the son of a sheriff’s deputy may face a maximum of 20 years for each count in relation to the intentional damage of religious property, 10 years for the first count on using fire to commit a felony, and 20 years for the remainder.

HE WAS INDICTED FOR SIX COUNTS AND MAY FACE DECADES IN JAIL IF CONVICTED

According to a statement released by the United States Attorney’s Office of the Western District of Louisiana dated June 12, 2019, Matthews has been indicted on six counts including three counts of intentional damage to religious property and three counts of using fire to commit a felony. 

From his cellphone, authorities recovered a recording where he speaks to a friend about using gasoline to burn churches and even had photos of the churches burning prior to the arrival of law enforcement. 

If convicted, the son of a sheriff’s deputy may face a maximum of 20 years for each count in relation to the intentional damage of religious property, 10 years for the first count on using fire to commit a felony, and 20 years for the remainder. These sentences will run consecutively. Moreover, Matthews will be subject to a maximum of three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine as restitution for each count he’s charged.

STARTLING EVIDENCE POINTS TO HIM AS THE SUSPECT

Matthews was pinpointed as the undeniable suspect after evidence linked him to the crimes. For one thing, police discovered that he bought a gas can and oil rags similar to the ones found at the scene of the fires. There were also copies of news reports about the fires stored in the unit. 

From his cellphone, authorities recovered a recording where he speaks to a friend about using gasoline to burn churches and even had photos of the churches burning prior to the arrival of law enforcement. 

On Facebook, he showed interest in a movie called “Lords of Chaos” a Norwegian film about the burning of churches. 

With no previous criminal record, the fires he was allegedly responsible for were motivated by the "religious character" of the churches.

THE CRIME IS REPORTEDLY MOTIVATED BY RELIGIOUS REASONS

Matthews was arrested about a week after the third fire and faced three charges of arson then. Three more charges were filed a few days later.  With no previous criminal record, the fires he was allegedly responsible for were motivated by the "religious character" of the churches, according to the recent statement from the Department of Justice, and not racially motivated as previously believed. 

A SUBSTANTIAL AMOUNT HAS BEEN RAISED FOR THE REHABILITATION OF THE CHURCHES

Meanwhile, a GoFundMe page was established following the burning incidents to help raise money for the rehabilitation of the churches. As of mid-April, around $1.8 million had already been raised. Today, the figures show there is a total of $2,145,790 in donations. 

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