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Suspected Louisiana church arsonist faces new hate crimes charges

By
Danielle Haynes
Holden Matthews allegedly set fire to three historically black churches in Louisiana in March and April. Photo courtesy of the Louisiana State Fire Marshal’s Office
Holden Matthews allegedly set fire to three historically black churches in Louisiana in March and April. Photo courtesy of the Louisiana State Fire Marshal’s Office

April 16 (UPI) -- A man suspected of setting fire to three historic black churches in Louisiana now faces additional hate crimes charges to which he pleaded not guilty this week.

State prosecutors upgraded charges for Holden Matthews, 21, to include three counts of hate crimes in addition to his existing charges of two counts of simple arson of a religious building and one count of aggravated arson or a religious building. A judge denied him bond. 

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Authorities arrested Matthews, the son of a St. Landry Parish sheriff's deputy, last week on suspicion he set fires to three churches over the span of about 10 days:

  1. St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre on March 26,
  2. Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas on April 2,
  3. and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas on April 4.

Vandalizing, bombing and burning historically black churches for decades have been methods to attempt to intimidate and terrorize communities in the Deep South. One of the most well-known attacks was the 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Ala., which killed four African-American girls. 

During his Monday hearing, prosecutors said cellphone evidence placed Matthews at the scenes of the three fires, including photos and videos. 

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"There is a substantial amount of evidence, it appears," District Judge James Doherty said. 

The judge set a trial date for September. 

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