South Louisiana man accused of setting fires to black churches working on plea deal

WWL Newsroom
January 24, 2020 - 3:26 pm

Holden Matthews, the man suspected of setting fire to three African-American churches in St. Landry Parish last spring, will have a change of plea hearing next month. The 22-year-old pleaded not guilty to state and federal charges, but Loyola University Law Professor Dane Ciolino says the prosecution has a lot of evidence.

“They had his own cell phone videos of the burning church, they had video surveillance buying gas cans like those used in the arson,” said Ciolino.

Federal prosecutors charged Matthews on three counts of intentional damage to religious property, which is considered a hate crime, and three counts of arson. Ciolino expects a plea deal will be reached, which will result in a significant sentence. But how much time is harder to figure.

“Because it involves an interplay between guidelines to arson to those that apply to civil rights violations,” explained Ciolino.

Matthews appears in court on February 10. He also faces state charges, but Ciolino expects Matthews will only spend time in federal prison.

“Nothing prevents the local DA from pressing forward on state arson charges, but in the vast majority of these cases, a plea in federal court will wind up with the state charges being dismissed,” said Ciolino.

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