The suspect in a string of fires at historically black churches in rural Louisiana was slapped with state hate crime charges, showing that authorities believe the arsons were racially motivated.
Holden Matthews, 21, pleaded not guilty to three counts of arson as well as three violations of state hate crime law that prosecutors filed Monday, according to CBS News. State District Judge James Doherty denied bail, agreeing with prosecutors that Matthews is a flight risk.
Matthews, the son of a St. Landry Parish sheriff’s deputy, stands accused of using gasoline to set fires at three churches in the area of Opelousas, about 60 miles west of Baton Rouge, in late March and early April. State Fire Marshal Butch Browning told CBS that “the evidence we have was unequivocal,” and that Matthews “demonstrated the characteristics of a pathological fire setter.”
The new hate crime charges confirmed what authorities wouldn’t initially say: that investigators believe Matthews targeted the churches because their congregations are predominantly and historically black.
After his arrest last week, Browning said investigators were looking into Matthews’ penchant for “black metal.” He didn’t go into specifics, but this week noted Matthews’ interest in the movie “Lords of Chaos,” a biopic about the Norwegian black metal scene in the ’90s, according to BuzzFeed News.
The movie makes reference to Varg Vikernes, a metal singer who in 1994 was convicted of murder and arson after he burned down churches in Norway. As The Daily Beast reported last week, Matthews also interacted on Facebook with memes about Vikernes and, separately, said in a post that he was “jk” when he said “white power.”
Matthews faces about 65 years in prison if convicted, BuzzFeed reported.