Holden Matthews photographed the three recent St. Landry Parish church arsons he is accused of committing as they occurred, then used the images to create album covers for his one-man black metal band, federal prosecutors said Monday in a pre-trial hearing for a hate-crimes case in which Matthews is the only defendant.
Prosecutors showed the raw photographs of the massive fires recovered from Matthews’ phone, along with edited versions with superimposed images of Matthews in robes and face paint and holding a knife. The edited versions also contain a logo for his band, Pagan Carnage. Matthews bragged about setting the fires and asked for feedback on the album covers in a series of Facebook messages during the 10-day span in which three historic black churches burned down in Port Barre and Opelousas.
Matthews also included song lyrics about burning churches in one of the exchanges, noting that it could “be based on real events.”
“I ain’t no damn poser,” Matthews wrote to a friend. “I practice what I preach.”
Holden Matthews, the suspect accused of burning three historically black St. Landry churches in a 10-day span, has been charged with hate crim…
A federal grand jury on June 6 indicted Matthews on six counts related to the fires, including three charges of intentionally damaging religious property — classified as hate crimes under the 1996 Church Arson Prevention Act. The other three counts are for using fires to commit felonies. He also faces state charges, including for hate crimes, in St. Landry Parish.
In addition to the messages, photographs and videos, cell tower data placed Matthews near the scenes of the fires as they occurred. Prosecutors showed a receipt and surveillance images of Matthews purchasing a gas can from Wal-Mart three hours before the first fire was reported at St. Mary Baptist Church in the early hours of March 26. Investigators found the same type of gas can in the wreckage at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church on April 4. Greater Union Baptist Church also burned down on April 2.
Matthews pleaded not guilty to all federal charges, but his lawyer, Dustin Talbot, admitted Monday the evidence against Matthews is strong. The purpose of the hearing was to determine whether Matthews qualified for release under the 1984 Bail Reform Act, which requires judges to consider the nature and circumstances of the offense, weight of evidence, the defendant’s characteristics and danger to the community.
A scheduling conference to set a trial date is set for Thursday.
It’s been two months since three historically black Baptist churches were burned by an arsonist, and as donation money is disbursed to the chu…
Talbot aimed to get Matthews moved from Lafayette Parish Correctional Center, where he is being held as a federal inmate, to St. Landry Parish, where no bond has been set for his pre-trial release on state charges. Doing so required convincing Magistrate Judge Carol Whitehurst that Matthews posed no danger and was not a flight risk, since there is no chance of him leaving state custody in St. Landry Parish.
Although Whitehurst acknowledged Matthews has no criminal history, she said that factoring in the possibility of St. Landry’s custody is tantamount to surrendering authority to a local jurisdiction, which she said is a “dangerous precedent.” Whitehurst ruled that Matthews would remain in federal custody at the Lafayette Parish jail.
Talbot painted the 21-year-old Matthews as an impressionable young man desperate for acceptance into a musical subgenre, in the mold of Varg Vikernes, a Norwegian black metal musician who was convicted in the early 1990s of murder and multiple church arsons. Matthews’ parents, Roy Matthews and Angela Matthews, testified that their son had watched “Lords of Chaos,” a film depiction of Vikernes’ rise in the black metal scene, about two months before the St. Landry fires. Talbot said Matthews is “a copycat.”
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“It’s not a person who woke up with hate in his heart,” Talbot said. “It’s someone who was unduly influenced.”
But Risa Berkower seized on Matthews’ voluntary interview with investigators after being identified as a suspect. In the course of a two-plus hour interview in which he was confronted with evidence against him, Matthews repeatedly denied involvement in the fires and went so far as to say whoever committed them should be in jail, prosecutors said.
The government is not alleging that Matthews acted with racial animus. To the contrary, prosecutors displayed messages in which Matthews said he chose Baptist churches because they contain more wood than Catholic churches. In another message, Matthews said he was angry at the media for focusing on racial implications.
The point, 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.