A year and a half after he burned down three church buildings belonging to black congregations, 23-year-old Holden Matthews was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison today. Matthews, the son of a sheriff’s deputy, went on a 10-day arson spree in the spring of 2019 when he targeted the three Baptist churches.
Matthews pleaded guilty to “three counts of intentional damage to religious property, a hate crime under the 1996 Church Arson Prevention Act, and one count of using fire to commit a felony for burning the three historically Black Baptist churches in March and April 2019”, says Katie Gagliano and Julia Guilbeau of the Acadiana Advocate who reported the story. The arsonist has been given credit by the presiding judge, Robert Summerhays, for the 18 months he has already been jailed, leaving the 23-year-old to serve the 23 1/2 remaining years. The defendant will also pay “$590,246 to St. Mary Baptist Church, $970,213.30 to Greater Union Baptist Church, and $1.1 million to Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in restitution,” according to the Advocate.
When the story broke of the arsons, it was thought the attacks were racially motivated. However, that wasn’t the case. Matthews told authorities that he did it because the buildings had religious significance and he wanted to burn them to become famous within “black metal” groups. Black metal is a subgenre of heavy metal music that is more blatant about it’s promotion of Satanism and occultism. Like most black metal followers, Matthews was also heavily into alcohol and drugs, which is no surprise given that the occult and drug abuse are inexorably linked.
During the course of the investigation into Matthews’ arson spree, investigators found photos that Matthews took of the churches as they burned and after the fires were put out when he returned to the scene of his crimes to gloat over the damage he caused. He used some of the photos as potential album covers for his black metal band named Pagan Carnage with his likeness Photoshopped into the images.
When he gave his statement in court today, Matthews apologized to the congregants who attended the hearing and claimed he had returned to his Christian faith since his arrest. However, some church members weren’t buying his apology. That’s because new evidence from Friday, October 30, was submitted to the court. It was a recorded conversation from Friday where Matthews spoke disparagingly of the church members who had testified in court and he even cursed them at one point in the conversation, calling them “bas****s.”
The arsonist will also be sentenced by the state court at a later date for pleading guilty to several state charges over the arsons.
The Acadiana Advocate, November 2, 2020.
NBC New York, November 2, 2020.