A man whom authorities believe set three historically Black churches ablaze in Louisiana this spring has been indicted on federal hate crime charges. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Louisiana announced the update in the case on Wednesday.
Holden Matthews, 21, was charged by a federal grand jury and given a six-count indictment. He is accused of torching St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas, and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas between March 26 and April 4. The indictment cites that he was motivated to commit the crimes because of the religious character of the properties.
Holden is being charged with three counts of intentional damage to religious property and three counts of using fire to commit a felony. The former qualifies as a hate crime under the Church Arson Prevention Act, according to the DOJ. Holden also faces state charges in the church burnings.
“Attacks against an individual or group because of their religious beliefs will not be tolerated in the Western District of Louisiana,” U.S. Attorney David C. Joseph said in a statement. “Churches are vital places of worship and fellowship for our citizens and bind us together as a community. Our freedom to safely congregate in these churches and exercise our religious beliefs must be jealously guarded.”
According to the unsealed documents, Holden now faces up to 20 years in prison on each count of intentional damage to religious property. He also has a mandatory sentence of 10 years for using fire to commit a felony, and 20 years for the remaining counts. Three years of supervised release, a $250,000 fine, and restitution are also likely for the alleged arsonist.
Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband noted during the announcement of the charges, “Federal law protects our freedom to practice religion in a safe environment without the threat of discrimination or violence.”