ACA.holdenplea11.021120

Holden Matthews is escorted back to the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center on Monday, Feb. 10, 2020 in Lafayette, La. Mathews arrived back after making an appearance at St. Landry Parish Courthouse to change plea in St. Landry Parish church arson case.

Sentencing hearings for confessed church arsonist Holden Matthews, planned for Friday, have been moved to Oct. 30.

This is the third time the federal and state sentencing hearings have been rescheduled; originally set for May 22, the hearings were moved to July 30 and then Oct. 16. The current hearings are scheduled before federal Judge Robert R. Summerhays at 10 a.m. and 27th Judicial District Court Judge James Doherty at 2:30 p.m. on Oct. 30.

The move was made at the request of federal prosecutors. 

Matthews pleaded guilty in February 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. In exchange for his plea, federal prosecutors dropped two additional charges.

On the same day, Matthews pleaded guilty to three state hate crime charges, two counts of simple arson of a religious building and a count of aggravated arson of a religious building in state court. Prosecutors said they intend for his federal and state sentences to run concurrently.

Matthews destroyed three historically Black churches — St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas — during a 10-day arson spree.

Investigators did not find a racial motive behind his crimes; instead Matthews said in messages he targeted the Baptist churches instead of Catholic churches because they had more wood, and would burn more easily.

Matthews was captured after local, state and federal law enforcement found physical evidence including a charred gasoline can, video surveillance of Matthews purchasing the tools used to set the fires, images that Matthews took at the scenes and doctored images where Matthews depicted himself at the scene and claimed responsibility for the fires.

In his federal plea agreement, the 22-year-old said he committed the crimes “to raise his profile as a black metal musician” and emulate bass player Varg Vikernes, of the band Mayhem, and other Norwegian black metal artists accused of a string of church fires in the 1990s.

The plea said Matthews posted about the fires on forums for black metal enthusiasts, including on Facebook, and was “emboldened” by the positive reaction he received.


Email Katie Gagliano at kgagliano@theadvocate.com