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Man Sentenced to 25 Years for Burning Down 3 Black Churches

Holden Matthews, the man who admitted to burning down three historically Black churches in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, has been sentenced to 25 years in prison.

For his admission of guilt, Matthews was given a plea deal that said he couldn’t be sentenced to more time than he was already sentenced to in federal court.

Mathews, who pleaded guilty to state hate crimes charges, simple arson of a religious building and aggravated arson of a religious building, had already been sentenced to 25 years on federal charges for the crimes.

The judge ordered that the two sentences run concurrently, meaning there will be no additional time added to his sentence. He was also given credit for the 18 months of time served.

Judge James Doherty, who presides over the 27th Judicial District Court, handed down the state sentence Monday morning. 

“This type of crime doesn’t have any place in this community,” Doherty said, “and it will not be tolerated.”

Members of Black Baptist churches in St. Landry Parish were disappointed by the judges decision that Matthews would not serve any additional prison time for the state charges because of the plea deal.

David Sylvester, a member of St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, told the judge it was impossible for him to fully comprehend the loss he and others have experienced.

“You can imagine, but you can’t feel it,” Sylvester said during a victim statement prior to the sentencing. “You can only imagine.”

Matthews burned the three churches — St. Mary Baptist Church, Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church — over a 10-day span in 2019.

The 23-year-old pleaded guilty in February to three federal charges of intentional damage to religious property, which are hate crimes under the Church Arson Prevention Act. He also pleaded guilty to one federal count of using fire to commit a felony.

Matthews also must pay about $2.7 million in restitution to the three churches he burned.

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