LAFAYETTE, La. (KLFY) — The Opelousas man responsible for burning down three predominantly African-American Baptist churches was sentenced to 25 years for his crimes and will owe $2.6 million in restitution, according to Acting U.S. Attorney Alexander Van Hook.
Holden James Matthews, 23, of Opelousas, pleaded guilty in February of this year to three charges of violating the Church Arson Prevention Act and one count of using fire to commit a federal felony.
Matthews set fire to St. Mary Missionary Baptist Church in Port Barre on March 26, 2019. On April 2, he set fire to Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas and on April 4, he burned down Mt. Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church. Matthews admitted to setting the fires in an effort to raise his profile as a “Black Metal” musician by copying similar crimes committed in Norway in the 1990s.
Matthews further admitted that, after setting the third fire, he posted photographs and videos on Facebook that showed the first two churches burning. Matthews admitted that he had taken these photographs and videos in real time on his cell phone, as he watched those churches burn, and that he had posted them to Facebook in an effort to promote himself in the Black Metal community.
“The members of St. Mary Missionary Baptist Church, Greater Union Baptist Church, and Mt. Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church are the ones who have suffered the most from these heinous crimes and have lost not only physical buildings, but sentimental items that cannot be replaced,” said Van Hook. “The sentence handed down today will not bring their churches back but should send a clear message that there is a high price to pay for this type of destruction and violence and these type of crimes will not be tolerated by this office.”
Matthews was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $590,246 to St. Mary Missionary Baptist Church, $970,213.30 to Greater Union Baptist Church, and $1,100,000 to Mt. Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church.