Prosecutor wants Louisiana church fire suspect held without bail

The suspect in a string of Louisiana church fires will learn whether he will await trial from behind bars, as a bail hearing is scheduled Monday morning in a St. Landry Parish court.

Holden Matthews, 21, is charged with three counts of simple arson on a religious building, State Fire Marshal Butch Browning said. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 15 years.

‘Robbed of their sacred space’

District Attorney Earl Taylor told CNN affiliate KLFY that he filed a motion to deny bail for Matthews, who was arrested Wednesday. The prosecutor hopes to provide sufficient evidence to convince District Judge James Doherty to keep Holden in jail pending trial, he told the station.

The suspect has no history of violence or prior arrests, authorities said, and he may have been influenced by “black metal” music and its “associated history with church burnings.”

Fires burned St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre on March 26, Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas on April 2 and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas on April 4, terrorizing congregants at the historically black places of worship. Pastors at nearby churches undertook numerous security measures, including sleeping in their churches or in the church parking lots to ward off would-be arsons.

As their church burned, they linked arms and prayed

Matthews expressed disgust with Baptist beliefs on Facebook. Posting under the name Noctis Matthews, he wrote that he cannot “stand all these baptists around here, bunch of brainwashed people trying to find happiness in a religion that was forced on their ancestors just as it was on mine.”

He also said he wished that “most blacks people would look into ancient beliefs of pre Christian Africa.”

Attempts to reach Matthews’ lawyer were unsuccessful.

The suspect’s father is a local sheriff’s deputy who broke down when he found out about his son’s alleged involvement in the fires, St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz said.

“He was shocked and hurt as any father would be,” Guidroz said. “He was in terrible shape.”

According to a court affidavit, it was the charred remains of a Scepter brand gas can, which federal agents found at Mount Pleasant Baptist, that led police to a Walmart in Opelousas and then to Matthews, according to an affidavit.

Walmart informed investigators two cans were purchased March 25 — fewer than 3 hours before the first fire — along with a 10-pack of automotive cloths and a lighter, the affidavit states. The receipt show the purchase was made with a debit card in Matthews’ name.

Investigators also obtained surveillance photos of Matthews and his dad’s Ford pickup truck, which investigators say he was driving minutes before the Greater Union Baptist Church caught fire, the affidavit said. Cell phone data also puts Matthews in the area of the fires, it said.