Holden Matthews, a young man from Louisiana, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for burning down three black churches in his home state. He was also ordered to pay $2.7 million in restitutions. Reportedly the crimes were not racially motivated but had to do with him promoting his metal band.
The three churches he burned down were St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas. The crimes were committed between March 26 and April 4, 2019.
In addition to being a heavy metal musician in the black metal band Vodka Vultures, Matthews was also the son of a local sheriff’s deputy. The law was tipped off when the musician decided to post photographs and video on Facebook after burning the first two churches.
After being investigated, officials traced three gas cans found at one of the burned churches to a local Walmart. After reviewing credit card receipts and surveillance video, they were able to further link Matthews to the crime.
The churches were razed to the ground but, because the arson took place at night, nobody was inured.
The judge cleared Matthews of hate crimes but found him guilty of three counts of arson of religious buildings and one count of using fire to commit a federal felony.
Matthews pled guilty to the crimes and wanted congregants of the church to know he had since found faith in the lord.
Prior to the trial, defense attorneys called in clinical psychologist and professor at Louisiana State University, Mary Lou Kelley, to evaluable Matthew’s mental state before he testified. He was found to be suffering from untreated depression, social anxiety, arrested social development and avoidant behaviors stemming from a fear of social rejection. It was also found that the defendant had a history or drug and alcohol use and got drunk before setting the fires.
"His mother continuously told him to pray and it'll get better. ... He was angry at God because his prayers weren't heard. I think if he had gotten the mental health services he needed he would not be here today," Kelly stated.
The Louisiana musician was inspired to commit the crimes by a slew of church burnings that took place in Norway in the 1990’s. In 1992 Norwegian teenager and member of a black circle cult, Kristian “Varg” Vikernes began recording music under the name Burzum and was moving forward to start recordings with his band Mayhem.
In a promotional stunt, Vikernes began setting fire to historic wooden stave churches. He called his next EP Aske (Norwegian for ashes) and put a photograph of the charred church on the album cover. Each copy of the album came with a free cigarette lighter.
In response, many teens followed suit and several Norwegian churches were burned.
Following the Louisiana arson fires, churches and religious groups throughout the state and country set up a GoFundMe to help rebuild the churches. With donations totaling more than $2 million, it is looking like there is hope in sight.