A 23-year-old Louisiana man was sentenced Monday to 25 years in prison for setting fire to three mostly black churches. According to the federal prosecutor’s office, this was an attempt to improve his profile as a “black metal” musician.
Holden James Matthews, 23, who burned down churches over a 10-day period ending April 4, 2019, was also asked to pay nearly $ 2.7 million to the churches. He pleaded guilty in federal court in February of three counts of violations of the Church Arson Prevention Act and one case of fire to commit a crime.
Prosecutors did not mention race as a factor in the charges, but the arson in the church sparked a long history of racist crimes committed across Jim Crow South.
“These churches date back to after the post-civil war reconstruction,” said Eric S. Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the Department of Civil Rights at the Justice Department, in a statement Monday. “The churches survived for nearly 150 years, but did not survive this defendant’s distorted act of hatred.”
When convicted in the United States District Court in Lafayette, La., Mr. Matthews spoke to parishioners of the churches he burned and apologized The Lafayette Acadiana attorney.
“There are not enough words in the English language to say how sorry I am,” the newspaper quoted Mr. Matthews as saying. “If I could go back and change it, I would.”
The churches that Mr. Matthews set on fire were St. Mary Missionary Baptist Church in Port Barre and the Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, both in Opelousas.
On sentencing, Judge Robert R. Summerhays of the Western District of Louisiana recognized Mr. Matthews for the 18 months he had been in prison since his arrest in April 2019, about two weeks after the third church fire. The lawyer reported.
Mr Matthews has also pleaded guilty to six state charges related to the flames, including aggravated arson of a religious building and three cases of hate crimes. His conviction is still pending.
Mr Matthews has admitted that, according to prosecutors, he has targeted the churches for their religious nature.
Mr Matthews has also said that he copied similar crimes committed in Norway in the 1990s to improve his status in the black metal community, whose most extreme practitioners have dealt with church fires, vandalism and murders. Black metal is a sub-genre of heavy metal, known for its unique blend of howling, unsyncopated blast beat drums and cold, triple guitars.
Mr Matthews posted pictures and videos of the church fires on Facebook and discussed them with a friend online, prosecutors said. In a message to a friend that the prosecution brought to court as evidence, Mr. Matthews mentioned a possible name for his potential record label: “Soul Rotting Records,” he wrote.
Dustin Charles Talbot, an attorney for Mr. Matthews, didn’t immediately return a phone call or email Monday night with a request for comment. In February said Mr Talbot that Mr. Matthews had the social and spiritual development of an adolescent and that his actions were not motivated by the racial makeup of the communities.
“Holden now fully understands the seriousness and gravity of his actions and is deeply remorseful about what he has done and the pain he has caused the congregations of these churches,” said Talbot.
Mr Matthews was arrested after investigators discovered that his debit card had been used to purchase a gasoline can that was found at the site of one of the fires.
The lawyer reported in April that the three churches were in different stages of reconstruction. The land at Mount Pleasant had been cleared and the Church was awaiting an inspection to begin the foundation work.
Donations for the reconstruction of the churches were received exceeded the promoter’s target of $ 1.8 million last year.
Concepción de León and Mariel Padilla contributed to the coverage.