Louisiana man sentenced to 25 years in prison for burning 3 historically Black churches

ST. LANDRY PARISH, La. — A Louisiana man was sentenced to 25 years in prison Monday for setting fire to three historically Black churches in St. Landry Parish, federal prosecutors said.

Holden Matthews, 23, pleaded guilty in February to intentionally setting fire to three Baptist churches over a 10-day period in March and April 2019, in part to raise his profile as a “Black Metal” musician and, in part, because of the “religious character” of the buildings, according to a U.S. Department of Justice news release.

>> Read more trending news

Matthews must also pay the churches he targeted $2.66 million in restitution, CNN reported, noting St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre will receive $590,246, Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas will receive $970,213.30 and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas will receive $1.1 million.

“These churches trace their origins to the post-Civil War Reconstruction period and, for generations, were a place for predominantly African American Christians to gather, pray, worship, and celebrate their faith. … The churches survived for nearly 150 years but did not survive this defendant’s warped act of hatred,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division said in the DOJ news release announcing the federal sentence.

All three structures were destroyed in the blazes.

According to his plea agreement, Matthews was mimicking a Norwegian “Black Metal” musician who “gained notoriety” in the 1990s by setting fires to churches in that country, NBC News reported.

According to the DOJ, Matthews pleaded guilty to three counts of violating the Church Arson Prevention Act, as well as one count of using fire to commit a federal felony.