CORRECT ARREST DATE WEDNESDAY, APRIL 10 – This booking image released by the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal shows Holden Matthews, 21, who was arrested Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in connection with suspicious fires in three historic black churches in the south of Louisiana. Matthews faces three counts of simple arson of a religious building on the state charges. Federal investigators also looked into whether hate motivated fire. (Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal via AP)
OPELOUSAS, La. – The white man brought in the burnings of three Louisiana black churches are faced with a mountain of evidence tying him to the crimes, documenting the fire on his mobile phone and an interest rate of arson on Facebook, the state fire marshal said Monday during a hearing that offered new insights into how the officials kept their presumption.
Holden Matthews bought a gas and oil rags similar to those found at the site of the fire, he took a conversation with a friend, in which he talked about using gasoline to burn churches and his mobile phone kept images of the fires, before law enforcement even arrived to the brands, Louisiana Fire Marshal Butch Browning testified at Matthews band.
The 21-year-old Matthews – the son of a sheriff’s deputy – entered not guilty plea Monday via video conference from the St. Landry Parish jail, as prosecutors added new charges declaring the arson a hate crime.
“There is a considerable amount of evidence, it would seem,” state District Judge James Doherty said denying Matthews band request, keeping him in the prison.
In his testimony for the prosecution, Browning outlined a litany of evidence that he said tied Matthews to the arson of the three black churches in 10 days.
The fire marshal described mobile phone records the place of Matthews at the fire place. On his phone, Browning said, Matthews had images of the church fires in the early stages, and the destruction days after the churches were set on fire, in addition to copies of news reports about the fire.
“He basically superimposed themselves on that news, claiming responsibility for these fires,” Browning said.
Video surveillance in the vicinity of the churches turned out to be a truck that is similar to Matthews disks, Browning said. Matthews also exchanged text messages with a friend who asked him about the fire: “that Was your work?” the fire marshal said.
In addition, Browning said Matthews posted on Facebook and showed interest in a movie called “Lords of Chaos”, which Browning said is a recent Norwegian film that involved church burnings.
“The evidence that we have unambiguous,” Browning said. Later he added: “He clearly has the characteristics of a pathological fire setter.”
The fire started with petrol, took place in and around Opelousas, approximately 60 km west of Louisiana’s capital of Baton Rouge.
The first blaze happened at St. Mary Baptist Church on the 26th of March in Port Barre, a small town just outside of Opelousas. Days later, the Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas were burned. Each was more than 100 years old.
Matthews, who had no previous criminal record, was Wednesday arrested on three charges of arson of a religious building. Prosecutors filed documents on Monday to add three more charges, accusing Matthews of violating Louisiana’s hate crime law, a link authorities had previously stopped short of making.
Browning said that federal officials also are considering the filing of additional federal hate crime and arson against Matthews.
The churches are empty and no one was injured. But on one location, two residents of a nearby house, leaving as the exterior cladding of the house began to catch fire from the church.
The fire and the community on the edge. Gov. Call John Edwards said that the church burnings were a reminder “of a very dark past intimidation and fear.”
Matthews, shackled and wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, never spoke to the court Monday during the hearing is done by the court-appointed lawyer entered the not guilty plea for him. His parents looked at their son’s appearance on the video conference in the courtroom, his father repeatedly wringing his hands, and on a given moment, leaving the room in tears.
Matthews’ lawyer Quincy Cawthorne questioned some of the evidence cited by Browning and said Matthews didn’t have the financial resources to be a flight risk. He also objected to the suggestion that the house in the neighborhood of one of the churches was intentionally set on fire, making the residents life is in danger.
A pro forma session in the case was set for July 17, with jury selection scheduled to begin in the trial on Sept. 10.
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