A 23-year-old Louisiana man was sentenced to 25 years in prison for setting fire to three predominantly black churches in what federal prosecutors described as an attempt to project his image as a “black metal” musician.
The man, Holden James Matthews, 23, who burned down churches over a 10-day period ending April 4, 2019, was also ordered to pay nearly $ 2.7 million to the churches. He pleaded guilty to federal court in February on three counts of violating the Church Fire Prevention Act and one count of using fire to commit a felony.
Prosecutors did not mention race as a factor in the charges, but the church fires sparked a long history of racial crimes committed across Jim Crow South.
“These churches have their origins in the reconstruction period after the Civil War,” Eric S. Dreband, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, said in a statement Monday. “The churches survived for nearly 150 years but not the disfigured act of hate by this accused.”
In the verdict against him in the United States District Court in Lafayette, Los Angeles, Mr. Matthews addressed worshipers at the churches he burned and apologized, according to Attorney for Acadiana in Lafayette.
“There are not enough words in the English language to express how sorry I am,” Matthews was quoted as saying. “If I could go back and change it I would.”
The churches that Mister Matthews burned in were Saint Mary Missionary Baptist Church in Port Barrie, Union Baptist Grand Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, both in Oplusas.
Upon pronouncing the verdict, Judge Robert Summerhays of Western Louisiana gave credit to Mr. Matthews for the 18 months he had spent in custody since his arrest in April 2019, about two weeks after the third church fire. The attorney reported.
Mr. Matthews also pleaded guilty to six official arson counts, including arson and three hate crimes. Judgment is pending.
Mr Matthews has admitted to targeting churches because of their religious character, according to prosecutors.
Mr. Matthews also said that he was imitating similar crimes committed in Norway in the 1990s in an effort to raise his profile among the black metal community, whose most extreme practitioners participated in church burning, vandalism and murder. Black metal is a subspecies of heavy metals, Known for its unique blend From howling, asynchronous drums, cold guitars, and triple harpsichord.
Prosecutors said that Mr Matthews posted pictures and videos of the church burning on Facebook, and discussed them with a friend online. In one letter to a friend, which prosecutors presented in court as evidence, Mr. Matthews mentioned a possible name for his potential music company: “Rotting Soul Recordings,” Music Burning On It, “he wrote.
Dustin Charles Talbot, Mr. Matthews’ attorney, did not immediately respond to a phone call or email requesting comment Monday night. Said Mr. Talbot in February That Mr. Matthews had the social and mental development of the teenager, and that his actions were not motivated by the racial makeup of the cults.
“Holden now fully understands the gravity and gravity of his actions and deeply regrets what he did and the pain he caused to the worshipers of these churches,” said Mr. Talbot.
Mr. Matthews was arrested after investigators determined that his debit card had been used to purchase a gas canister found at the scene of the fire.
In April, I mentioned The Advocate That the three churches were in different stages of reconstruction. The land was cleared at Mount Pleasant, and the church was awaiting inspection to begin foundation work.
Donations poured in to help rebuild churches Last year, surpassing the organizers ’target of $ 1.8 million.
Concepcion de Leon and Marielle Padilla contributed to the reports.