Holden Matthews, the man police say set fire to Black churches in Louisiana over a 10-day period, has been arraigned and charged with three counts of hate crimes and a previous simple arson charge has been elevated to aggravated arson.
From March 26 through April 4, Matthews allegedly set fire to St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, the Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, also in Opelousas — destroying all three churches, according to The Advocate.
During a hearing on Monday at the St. Landry Parish Courthouse, Matthews, 21, who appeared via video conference, pleaded not guilty.
District Judge James Doherty denied to set bail for Matthews, arguing that the serious nature of the charges, along with the evidence collected implicating him, pose significant risks to the community.
“There is a substantial amount of evidence, it appears,” Doherty said, according to The Advocate.
In total, Matthews is facing one count of aggravated arson of a religious building, two counts of simple arson of a religious building, and three counts of hate crime for allegedly targeted churches that were predominantly Black.
Indicating evidence that places Matthews at the crime scenes, authorities recovered photos and videos from the churches on Matthews’ cell phone, the newspaper reported. The images were reportedly taken at the start of the fires and after firefighters and other emergency responders battled the fires.
During the court hearing, Louisiana State Fire Marshal H. “Butch” Browning testified, with information about the images found on Matthews’ cell phone. Browning also said authorities retrieved copies of news reports on the fire that Matthews allegedly altered to claim responsibility for the fires.
“He superimposed himself on these news reports claiming responsibility for these fires,” Browning said.
Officials said they decided to upgrade the one arson charge to aggravated because the fire subjected nearby residents to “immediate danger.” The two nearby residents were safely evacuated by firefighters.
Matthews is expected to start trial in September. A pre-trial hearing is slated for July 17.