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Louisiana Church Fire Suspect Facing Hate Crime Charges

(Photo credit: St. Landry Parish Sheriff Dept.)

Earlier this month, three predominantly African-American churches in one Louisiana parish were set on fire. Officials arrested Holden Matthews, 21, and charged him with three counts of simple arson on religious buildings in connection to the fires. On Monday, state prosecutors declared the fires a hate crime during a bail hearing, NBC reports.

State District Judge James Doherty denied bail for Matthews, agreeing with prosecutors who believed the suspect would attempt to set more fires or flee the area if he was released.

Doherty’s decision echoes the sentiment of Louisiana Fire Marshal Butch Browning, who spoke during the hearing. “We felt that he was an immediate risk to public safety,” he said. “In my mind, I felt another fire was imminent.”

Browning disclosed incriminating evidence of Matthews’ involvement. According to the fire marshal, he purchased a gas can and package of oil rags similar to those found at the sites of the fires. Officials discovered a lighter and a package of oil rags from which some were missing in Matthews’ truck.

Browing said officials found footage of the fires Matthews documented and copies of news reports about the fires on his phone. “He actually superimposed himself on those news reports, claiming responsibility for these fires,” the fire marshal said.

According to Browning, federal officials could possibly file additional federal hate crime and arson charges.

Matthews, the son of a sheriff’s deputy, entered a not guilty plea during the bail hearing. A pretrial hearing has been scheduled for July 17.

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