Louisiana man sentenced to 25 years for burning Black churches

A Louisiana man was sentenced to 25 years in prison Monday for setting fire to three historically Black churches, federal prosecutors said.

Holden Matthews, 23, in February pleaded guilty to setting fire to the Baptist churches in spring 2019 and said he did it to boost his profile in the "black metal" community, the Justice Department said.

Black metal is described as an extreme subgenre of heavy metal music. Matthews sought to emulate a Norwegian musician who "gained notoriety" by setting fire to churches in that country in the 1990s, according to a plea agreement.

“The churches survived for nearly 150 years but did not survive this defendant’s warped act of hatred," Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Justice Department's civil rights division said in a statement.

St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, the Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas, and the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas were completely destroyed, the Justice Department said.

The three churches, which are in the Opelousas area north of Lafayette, trace their origins to the Reconstruction period after the Civil War, federal prosecutors said.

Matthews pleaded guilty to three counts of violating the Church Arson Prevention Act, as well as one count of using fire to commit a federal felony, the government said.

He was sentenced Monday to 300 months in prison as well as three years of supervised release, and he was also ordered to pay a combined more than $2.6 million in restitution to the three churches.

An emailed request for comment to a federal public defender listed as representing Matthews was not immediately returned Monday night.

The fires were set at the churches starting March 26, 2019. Matthews was arrested April 10, 2019.

Matthews posted videos and photos to Facebook of the fires at the first two churches to promote himself as a black metal musician, according to plea agreement documents, and he then set fire to the third, which was Mount Pleasant Baptist Church.

“There are not enough words in the English language to say how sorry I am," Matthews said at sentencing Monday, according to The Advocate newspaper of Baton Rouge. "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."