On Monday, a Louisiana man, 23 years old, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for arson burning three mostly Black churches in a way federal prosecutors see as an attempt to elevate the lake his profile as a “black metal” musician.
The man, Holden James Matthews, 23, who burned churches over a 10-day period ending April 4, 2019, was also ordered to pay close to $ 2.7 million for the churches. . He pleaded guilty to federal court in February on three counts of violating the Church Burn Prevention Act and one charged with using fire to commit felony crimes.
Prosecutors did not mention race as a factor in the charges, but the arson of the church has evoked a long history of racist crimes committed across Jim Crow South.
“These churches have their roots in the post-Civil War Reconstruction era,” Eric S. Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the civil rights division at the Justice Department, said in a statement on Monday. “The churches have been around for nearly 150 years, but the defendant’s act of hatred has not survived.”
According to Lafayette’s The Acadiana Advocate, at his sentencing session at Lafayette District Court, La., Mr. Matthews spoke to laymen of the churches he burned and apologized.
The newspaper quoted Mr. Matthews as saying: “There are not enough English words to say how sorry I am. “If I could go back and change it, I would.”
The churches that Mr. Matthews burned were St. Mary Missionary Baptist Church in Port Barre, and Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, both in Opelousas.
At the sentencing, West Louisiana County Judge Robert R. Summerhays recognized Mr. Matthews in the 18 months in which he has been detained since his arrest in April 2019, about two weeks after the third church fire. , The Advocate reported.
Mr. Matthews also pleaded guilty to six state charges related to the fires, including the burning of a more serious religious building and three charges of hatred. His sentence is pending.
Mr Matthews has admitted that he targets churches because of their religious personalities, prosecutors said.
Mr. Matthews has also said that he is copying similar crimes that happened in Norway in the 1990s in an attempt to elevate his status in the black metal community, whose practitioners Most have participated in the burning of churches, vandalism and murder. Black metal is a subdivision of heavy metal, known for its unique blend of howling, branching beats and cool trebly guitar.
Mr. Matthews posted pictures and videos of the church fire on Facebook, and discussed them with an online friend, prosecutors said. In a message to a friend, prosecutors brought to court as evidence, Mr. Matthews mentioned a possible name for the label he was going to establish: “Soul Rotting Records, “Music to burn,” he wrote.
Dustin Charles Talbot, Matthews’ attorney, did not immediately return a phone call or an email seeking comment on Monday night. In February, Mr. Talbot said that Mr. Matthews had the social and spiritual growth of a minor, and that his actions were not motivated by the racial makeup of the congregations.
“Holden now fully understands the seriousness and seriousness of his actions and deeply regrets what he has done and the pain he has inflicted on the congregations of the houses. worship, ”said Mr. Talbot.
Mr. Matthews was arrested after investigators determined that his debit card used to buy a can of gas was found at the scene of one of the fires.
In April, The Advocate reported that the three churches are in various stages of reconstruction. The land in Mount Pleasant has been cleared, and the church is awaiting inspection to begin manicuring.
Donations to help rebuild churches poured in last year, surpassing the organizers’ goal of $ 1.8 million.
Concepción de León and Mariel Padilla contributed to the report.