Louisiana man gets 25 years for setting fire to Black churches

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BY JESSICA SCHLADEBECK
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS/TNS

A white man who admitted to setting fire to three historically Black churches in Louisiana has been sentenced to 25 years in federal prison.

Holden Matthews  was also ordered to pay more than $2.66 million in restitution for the arson rampage, which unfolded over the course of 10 days in March and April 2019.

St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre is slated to receive $590,246 of the funds while Greater Union in Opelousas was allotted $970,213.30, the Department of Justice said in a press release. Matthews is additionally required to pay  Mt. Pleasant, also in Opelousas, $1.1 million.

All three churches were destroyed in the fires.

Pleaded guilty

Matthews in February pleaded guilty to three counts of using fire to commit a felony and three counts of intentional damage to religious property, which are labeled hate crimes by the Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996.

The 23-year-old had been facing 70 years behind bars.

Federal prosecutors said he admitted to setting the fires because of “the religious characters of the buildings” and in a bid to raise his profile as a “’black metal’ musician.” He told authorities at the time he was inspired by similar crimes committed in Norway in the 1990s.

“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,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband  of the Civil Rights Division said.

“The churches survived for nearly 150 years but did not survive this defendant’s warped act of hatred.”

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