Louisiana prosecutors gave a glimpse of its case against the suspected white supremacist who left a trail of damning evidence appearing to connect him to the three Black churches that were burned down in recent weeks.
Local authorities laid out new evidence against accused arsonist Holden Matthews and added state hate crime charges against him at a court hearing on Monday, the Advocate reported. He’s also now being charged with two counts of simple arson of a religious building and one count of aggravated arson of a religious building.
“There is a substantial amount of evidence, it appears,” said District Judge James Doherty who also denied him bail.
Matthews entered a plea of not guilty.
The three fires occurred in St. Laundry, a Louisiana parish north of Lafayette, between March 26 and April 4. The fires destroyed St. Mary Baptist Church in the community of Port Barre, Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas. Each of the three churches is more than 100 years old and one of them had been remodeled just two years ago. The churches were fortunately vacant when the fires started so there were no reported injuries.
Louisiana State Fire Marshal H. “Butch” Browning was the only witness at the hearing. He gave new details about the evidence that’s stacked against Matthews, the son of a St. Landry Parish deputy who reportedly turned his son over to investigators.
Browning revealed the digital evidence found in the suspect’s mobile phone, which was a key new element in the case. He said investigators found copies of news articles about the fires in which Matthews “superimposed himself on these news reports claiming responsibility for these fires.”
Detectives also discovered photos and video from the church fires on his phone. Pictures were taken at the three blazes as the fires were starting as well as before and after emergency crews showed up at the scenes. Photos also showed that he returned to the destroyed churches days later, officials said.
There was also a 10-second video clip of Matthews talking with a friend about church fires that were taken before he allegedly set the fires.
Browning also gave new details about the physical evidence. He said investigators discovered a cigarette lighter and rags in Matthews’ truck that matched the ones found at the fires.
Before these new charges were filed, the New York Post said he faced up to 45 years in prison if convicted.