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Monday, February 24, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Man: Guilty plea to federal charges in black church burnings

UPDATED: Mon., Feb. 10, 2020

This booking image provided by the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal shows Holden Matthews, who was arrested Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in connection with suspicious fires at three historic black churches in southern Louisiana. Matthews is scheduled for a change-of-plea hearing Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, in federal court, where he faces hate crime charges. (AP)
This booking image provided by the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal shows Holden Matthews, who was arrested Wednesday, April 10, 2019, in connection with suspicious fires at three historic black churches in southern Louisiana. Matthews is scheduled for a change-of-plea hearing Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, in federal court, where he faces hate crime charges. (AP)

LAFAYETTE, La. – The aspiring `black metal’ musician who was arrested in a series of fires set at African American churches in Louisiana last spring pleaded guilty Monday to four federal criminal counts.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a news release that Holden Matthews pleaded guilty to three counts of intentional damage to religious property, a federal hate crime carrying a possible 20-year sentence per count. He also pleaded to one count of using fire to commit a felony, which has a possible 10-year sentence. He entered the pleas in federal court in Lafayette.

Matthews, 21 at the time of his arrest last year, is white and the destruction of the three historic black churches in St. Landry Parish evoked memories of civil rights-era terrorism. But race is not mentioned as a factor in the charges.

The indictment said the fires were set “because of the religious character“ of the properties.

Three churches were burned in a span of 10 days, beginning in late March 2019, in an area roughly 140 miles (225 kilometers) west of New Orleans in St. Landry Parish. Matthews’ father is a parish sheriff’s deputy.

Investigators said Matthews had shown interest in “black metal,” an extreme sub-genre of heavy metal music.

“Matthews admitted to setting the fires because of the religious character of these buildings, in an effort to raise his profile as a Black Metal’ musician by copying similar crimes committed in Norway in the 1990s,” the U.S. Attorney’s statement said.

Matthews also faces state charges in connection with the fires. Don Richard, an assistant district attorney in St. Landry, told The Associated Press he hoped to begin resolving the state case after the federal plea but declined to discuss details.

The state charges include two counts of simple arson of a religious building and a count of aggravated arson of a religious building.

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