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Louisiana man sentenced to 25 years in prison for setting fire to 3 Baptist churches

Arrest announced in Louisiana church arsons
Officials denounce suspect in Louisiana church arsons 03:07

A Louisiana man who admitted to burning down three predominantly African American churches to promote himself as a "Black metal" musician was sentenced Monday to 25 years in prison and ordered to pay the churches $2.6 million.

U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays of Lafayette sentenced Holden Matthews, giving the 23-year-old man credit for 18 months he already spent in jail, U.S. Attorney Alexander Van Hook said in a news release.

"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 statement said.

Matthews had shown interest in "Black metal," an extreme subgenre of heavy metal, according to authorities. The music has been linked, in some instances, to fires at Christian churches in Norway.

He had pleaded guilty to both state and federal charges. Summerhays said that when Matthews is sentenced in state court, that judge may order the sentence to be served at the same time as the federal one.

Matthews pleaded guilty in federal court to three counts of violating the Church Arson Prevention Act and to one of using fire to commit a federal felony.

This file booking image provided by the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal shows Holden Matthews. Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal via AP

Summerhays ordered him to pay $1.1 million in restitution to Mt. Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church and $970,213.30 to Greater Union Baptist Church, both in Opelousas, and $590,246 to St. Mary Missionary Baptist Church in Port Barre.

All three were burned down over 10 days in March and April of 2019. The churches were empty at the time of the fires, and no one was injured.

"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 Civil Rights Division said in the news release. "The churches survived for nearly 150 years but did not survive this defendant's warped act of hatred."

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