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Arsonist Given 25 Years in Prison for Burning 3 Historically Black Churches


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A Louisiana man who admitted to burning down three predominantly African American churches to promote himself as a "black metal" musician was sentenced Monday to 25 years in prison and ordered to pay the churches $2.6 million.

US District Judge Robert Summerhays sentenced Holden Matthews, 23, giving him credit for 18 months he already spent in jail, US Attorney Alexander Van Hook said in a news release.

"Matthews admitted to setting the fires because of the religious character of these buildings, in an effort to raise his profile as a 'Black Metal' musician by copying similar crimes committed in Norway in the 1990s," the statement said.

As CBN News reported, Matthews' self-promotion included taking pictures and videos of two of the burning churches and posting them to Facebook.

Matthews told the judge, pastors, and congregations of the three Baptist churches that he was deeply sorry and wanted them to know he had recovered his faith in God, The Acadiana Advocate reported.

"There are not enough words in the English language to say how sorry I am. If I could go back and change it I would...I not only have hurt my real family and friends but I have hurt my brothers and sisters in Christ," he said.

He had pleaded guilty to both state and federal charges. Summerhays said that when Matthews is sentenced in state court, the judge may order the sentence to be served at the same time as the federal one.

Matthews pleaded guilty in federal court to three counts of violating the Church Arson Prevention Act and to one of using fire to commit a federal felony.

Summerhays ordered him to pay $1.1 million in restitution to Mt. Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church and $970,213.30 to Greater Union Baptist Church, both in Opelousas, and $590,246 to St. Mary Missionary Baptist Church in Port Barre.

Although race was not considered a motive, Summerhays said, he had to consider that the crime brought the church communities back to a dark time of racial discrimination, the newspaper reported.

"These churches trace their origins to the post-Civil War Reconstruction period and, for generations, were a place for predominantly African American Christians to gather, pray, worship, and celebrate their faith," Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division, said in the news release. "The churches survived for nearly 150 years but did not survive this defendant's warped act of hatred."

The judge asked the Bureau of Prisons to put Matthews in a prison near his family and to ensure that he gets substance abuse counseling and mental health treatment, KATC-TV reported.

As CBN News has reported, all three church buildings were burned down over 10 days in March and April of 2019. The churches were empty at the time of the fires, and no one was injured. Matthews was apprehended by authorities on April 10 of last year.  

"It steals something from you. It robs you... I know their head is down. I know they're spiritually weakened," Pastor Toussaint of Mt. Pleasant Baptist said at the time. "It caused us to pray harder, and pray more frequently. This is the time for us to pull together."

As CBN News also reported in May of 2019, Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Louisiana to praise the members of the three churches for the inspiring way they responded to the destruction of their church buildings by an arsonist and noted that attacks on communities of faith have become "all too frequent."

"No one should ever fear for their safety in a house of worship, anywhere in this country, anywhere in the world. Attacks on communities of faith must stop," he said as church members around him raised a chorus of "amens."

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