White Louisiana Man Pleads Guilty to Burning Down Three Black Churches

Holden Matthews pleaded guilty on Monday to intentionally setting fire to three historically black churches in Louisiana last April.
Credit…Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal, via Associated Press

A 22-year-old man pleaded guilty on Monday to intentionally setting fires to three predominantly black Baptist churches in Louisiana over a 10-day period last year — crimes that set a rural Cajun community on edge.

The man, Holden Matthews, the son of a local sheriff’s deputy, pleaded guilty to four federal criminal counts, including three counts of intentional damage to religious property, which is a federal hate crime, and one count of using fire to commit a felony, according to a statement issued by the United States Department of Justice. Later on Monday, he pleaded guilty to six state charges, including aggravated arson of a religious building and three hate crime counts.

He will face 10 to 70 years in prison when he is sentenced on the federal charges on May 22. He will be sentenced on the state charges four days later.

During his plea hearing in United States District Court in Lafayette, La., Mr. Matthews said he had targeted these buildings because of their religious character, according to the statement. Mr. Matthews, an aficionado of black metal, a subgenre of heavy metal, said he was copying similar crimes committed in Norway in the 1990s in an attempt to elevate his status among the black metal community, whose most extreme practitioners engaged in church burning, vandalism and killings.

Mr. Matthews was a member of a black metal band called Vodka Vultures. He also admitted to posting photographs and videos of the churches burning on Facebook as a promotional tactic.

Mr. Matthews set fire to St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, La., on March 26, Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas on April 2 and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, also in Opelousas, on April 4.

All the fires took place in the middle of the night and did not injure anyone. Mr. Matthews was arrested about two weeks after the first fire.

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SOURCE: The New York Times, Mariel Padilla