On the evening of Wednesday, April 10, 21-year-old Holden Matthews was arrested in connection with three fires that terrorized the African American communities of Louisiana. In the span of less than two weeks, starting on March 26, St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, the Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas, and the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas were all set ablaze. On Monday, prosecutors added new charges to Matthews’s list. Declaring the arsons to be hate crimes, a judge denied Matthews bail.
Matthews pled not guilty Monday, via videophone from the St. Landry Parish jail. His trial is set for September. Matthews’s arrest came after federal investigators joined local law enforcement. According to reports, investigators discovered red gas cans at the arson sites, matching cans Matthews allegedly purchased in the area just hours before the first fire.
Including hate crimes into the charges is an important addition, as initially investigators tried to argue that race wasn’t the motivating factor—referring to Matthews’s interest in a sub genre of heavy metal music called “Black Metal.” Now, at least, Louisiana is accepting that these black church burnings were racially—not musically—motivated.