A white Louisiana man was sentenced to 25 years in prison for burning down three historically Black churches last year.
Holden Matthews learned his punishment for federal charges related to the arsons on Monday, reported USA Today. Federal District Judge Robert Summerhays gave him 18 months credit for time served. The 23-year-old will be required to serve 282 months in prison.
The sentencing began Friday but ended up being delayed due to the discovery of new evidence, which turned out to be phone calls between Matthews and his parents last week. He reportedly told them “one of these bastards thought they would see justice but they didn’t get it” — a reference to the parishioners that testified against him — USA Today reported.
During the sentencing proceedings, Matthews apologized for his actions and claimed he “found Christ” during his time behind bars.
“There are not enough words in the English language to express how sorry I am,” Matthews said. “If I could go back and change it all I would.”
The fires occurred in the Opelousas area of southern Louisiana between March 26 and April 4, 2019. The first fire occurred at St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre. Matthews burned down Greater Union Baptist Church a week later. The last blaze claimed Mount Pleasant Baptist Church. After he finished setting the fires, Matthews took pictures and posted them on social media.
He was apprehended on April 11, a week after the final arson. Matthews later told authorities the crimes were not racially motivated and he committed arson “because of the religious character of these buildings, in an effort to raise his profile as a ‘Black Metal’ musician,” per a press release from The Department of Justice. The churches, which were more than 140 years old, are in the process of rebuilding their facilities.
“These churches trace their origins to the post-Civil War Reconstruction period and, for generations, were a place for predominantly African American Christians to gather, pray, worship, and celebrate their faith,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “The churches survived for nearly 150 years but did not survive this defendant’s warped act of hatred.”
Matthews pleaded guilty to one count of using fire to commit a federal felony and three counts of violating the Church Arson Prevention Act. He faced a total of 70 years in prison. The prosecution requested a 30-year sentence, while the defense wanted a decade and one day.
“The members of St. Mary Baptist Church, Greater Union Baptist Church, and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church are the ones who have suffered the most from these heinous crimes and have lost not only physical buildings, but sentimental items that cannot be replaced,” said acting U.S. Attorney Alexander C. Van Hook of the Western District of Louisiana. “The sentence handed down today will not bring their churches back but should send a clear message that there is a high price to pay for this type of destruction and violence and these type of crimes will not be tolerated by this office.”