OPELOUSAS, La. (AP) — The white man charged with the burnings of 3 Louisiana black churches faces a mountain of evidence tying him to the crimes, documenting the fires on his cellphone and a hobby in arson on Facebook, the kingdom fire marshal stated Monday at a hearing that offered new perception into how officers tracked their suspect. Holden Matthews bought a gas can and oil rags much like those discovered on the website of the fires; he recorded a communique with a pal in which he talked about using gas to burn church buildings. His cellphone held pix of the fires earlier than regulation enforcement even arrived at the blazes, Louisiana Fire Marshal Butch Browning testified at Matthews’ bond listening to.
The 21-yr-vintage Matthews – the son of a sheriff’s deputy – entered a no longer responsible plea Monday thru video convention from the St. Landry Parish prison, as prosecutors added new charges affirming the arsons a hate crime. There is a sizable quantity of proof,” Country District Judge James Doherty said earlier than denying Matthews’ bond request, preserving him in jail.
In his testimony for prosecutors, Browning outlined evidence that tied Matthews to torching the three black church buildings over ten days. The hearth marshal described cellular telephone data putting Matthews at the fireplaces. On his cellphone, Browning stated, Matthews had photos of the church fires inside the early degrees and the destruction days after the church buildings had been set ablaze, in addition to copies of information reports approximately the fires. He sincerely superimposed himself on the one’s news reports, claiming duty for those fires,” Browning stated.
Browning stated that video surveillance near the church buildings showed a truck like the one Matthews drives. Matthews additionally exchanged text messages with a pal who asked approximately the fires: “Was that your paintings?” the fire marshal stated. In addition, Browning stated Matthews posted on Facebook about and confirmed interest in a movie called “Lords of Chaos,” which Browning said is a recent Norwegian movie that concerned church burnings.
Later he added: “He has genuinely confirmed the traits of a pathological fireplace setter. The proof we’ve got became unequivocal,” Browning said. The fires, all began with fuel, occurred in and around Opelousas, about 60 miles west of Louisiana’s capital town of Baton Rouge. The first blaze happened at the St. Mary Baptist Church on March 26 in Port Barre, a metropolis outdoors of Opelousas. Days later, the Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas were burned. Each turned into extra than a hundred years of antique.
Matthews, who had no preceding crook record, was arrested Wednesday on three costs of arson of a spiritual building. Prosecutors filed files Monday, including three more charges, accusing Matthews of violating Louisiana’s hate crime regulation, which a hyperlink government had previously stopped quickly making. Browning said federal officials are also considering filing extra federal hate crime and arson expenses in opposition to Matthews.
The churches were empty at the time, and no one was injured. But at one place, two occupants of a close-by domestic needed to evacuate when the siding on the house began to seize fire from the church.
The fires set the network on the side. Gov. John Bel Edwards stated the church burnings were a reminder “of a completely dark past of intimidation and worry. Matthews, shackled and sporting an orange prison jumpsuit, in no way spoke to the court docket all through Monday’s listening to, letting his court docket-appointed legal professional enter the now not responsible plea for him. His parents watched their son’s look on video convention from the court, his dad time and again wringing his hands and, at one point, leaving the room in tears.
Matthews’ lawyer Quincy Cawthorne questioned some of the evidence referred to via Browning and said Matthews didn’t have the monetary means to be a flight risk. He also objected to pointers that the residence close to one of the churches become intentionally set on fireplace, placing the citizens’ lives in Hazard.
A pretrial hearing inside the case was set for July 17, with jury choice scheduled for the trial on September 10.