Indicted: Suspect who allegedly burned down three Louisiana churches

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LAFAYETTE, La. (KTAL/KMSS) A federal grand jury has indicted the 21-year-old Louisiana man accused of setting fire and destroying three churches in St. Landry Parish, La. last spring, according to David C. Joseph, US Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana and Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.

In the indictment, which was unsealed today, Holden James Matthews of Opelousas was charged for setting fire to and destroying St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre on March 26; Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas on April 2; and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas on April 4. 

According to the six-count indictment, in a span of 10 days, Matthews intentionally set fire to St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, Louisiana, on March 26, Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas on April 2; and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas on April 4.  

The indictment alleges Matthews was motivated to set the fires because of the religious character of these properties.  Matthews is charged with three counts of intentional damage to religious property, hate crime charges that fall under the Church Arson Prevention Act, and three counts of using fire to commit a felony.

“Attacks against an individual or group because of their religious beliefs will not be tolerated in the Western District of Louisiana,” Joseph said. 

“Federal law protects our freedom to practice religion in a safe environment without the threat of discrimination or violence,” Dreiband said.  “Any alleged violation of federal civil rights laws are taken extremely seriously by the Justice Department and will be prosecuted.”

If convicted, Matthews faces a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years per count of intentional damage to religious property. In addition, he faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years for the first count of using fire to commit a felony, and 20 years for the subsequent counts, all to run consecutively.  

He also faces up to three years of supervised release, a $250,000 fine and restitution for each of the counts.

The ATF, FBI, Louisiana State Fire Marshal, St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office, St. Landry Parish District Attorney’s Office, Louisiana State Police, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry’s Cybercrime Unit, and the Florida State Fire Marshal conducted the investigation. 

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Dominic Rossetti and John Luke Walker, along with Trial Attorney Risa Berkower of the Justice Department’s Criminal Section, Civil Rights Division, are prosecuting the case.

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