Church arsonist changes plea to guilty in federal court

Sentencing scheduled for May 22

Kenny Kuhn
February 10, 2020 - 1:39 pm
Holden Matthews

The man accused of burning down three historically-black Baptist churches in St. Landry Parish, pleads guilty in federal court. He originally pled not guilty.

The Advocate reports Holden Matthews changed his plea to guilty on three counts of intentional damage to religious property, which under the federal Church Arson Prevention Act is a hate crime, and one count of using fire to commit a felony. In exchange, prosecutors dropped the two other felony arson charges filed against him. Each count of damage to religious property carries a maximum of 20 years in prison and a mandatory minimum of 10 years for the intentional damages charge.

“Matthews admitted to setting fire to three churches because of their religious character. His disgraceful conduct violated the civil rights of the church’s parishioners and harmed their communities,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “The Department of Justice will remain unwavering in its protection of the freedom to practice religion without the threat of discrimination or violence.”

Over ten days, Matthews destroyed Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas, Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas, and St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre.

His sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 22 in Lafayette.

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