Mugshot of Holden Matthews

Mugshot of Holden Matthews

A federal trial date has been set for accused St. Landry church arsonist Holden Matthews.

Matthews’ trial is scheduled for Feb. 10, 2020, according to U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana David C. Joseph’s office. Matthews is accused of burning three historically African American Baptist churches in Opelousas and Port Barre between March 26 and April 4.

Matthews was indicted on six charges by a federal grand jury June 6, including three counts of using fire to commit a felony and three counts of intentionally damaging religious property, which is considered a hate crime under the 1996 Church Arson Prevention Act. Federal prosecutors contend Matthews targeted the churches “because of the religious character of these properties.”

The trial date was set Thursday during a conference session between representatives from the prosecution, defense and court. Under the 1974 Speedy Trial Act, federal criminal cases are required to go to trial within 70 days of the defendant’s indictment when the accused has pleaded not guilty.

The U.S. Attorney’s office and Matthews’ attorney submitted a joint motion requesting the case be classified as complex, meaning the case requires more intense management by the court because of either complex subject matter, extensive evidence in the case discovery, numerous expert witnesses or other causes.

The U.S. Attorney’s office then filed a motion to continue the trial beyond the 70-day speedy trial deadline. A complex case distinction is one factor that could allow the court to have a later trial date.

Matthews appeared at the Lafayette federal courthouse Monday for a detention hearing to determine whether he would be eligible for bond and pre-trial release. Magistrate Judge Carol Whitehurst ruled that Matthews would remain in federal custody at the Lafayette Parish jail, where he’s being held as a federal inmate.

Matthews pleaded not guilty to all federal charges, but his lawyer, Dustin Talbot, admitted the evidence against Matthews is strong.

Federal prosecutor Risa Berkower presented new evidence in the case against Matthews, including photos taken from the scenes of the fires edited to include superimposed images of Matthews in robes and face paint with a logo for his one-man black metal band, Pagan Carnage.

Matthews also allegedly bragged about setting the fires in Facebook messages to friends and solicited feedback on the album covers he designed using photos from the fire scenes.

The point of the fires, Matthews wrote in one message, was to exact revenge on the Christian religion for what he described as centuries of oppression. He said he wanted his victims to know the fires were intentional.

“I want them to be scared,” Matthews wrote.

Matthews also faces state charges including three state hate crimes charges, two counts of simple arson of a religious building and a count of aggravated arson of a religious building. Matthews was denied bond for the state charges at an April 15 hearing at the St. Landry Parish courthouse.

Previous evidence presented at Matthews’ state bond hearing included cell tower data that placed Matthews near the scene of each fire and receipts and images of Matthews purchasing a gas can from Walmart three hours before the first fire at St. Mary Baptist Church. The same type of gas can was recovered from the wreckage at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church, the last church to be burned.

Staff writer Ben Myers contributed to this report. 

Email Katie Gagliano at kgagliano@theadvocate.com