UPDATE | Suspect in Louisiana church fires charged with hate crimes
OPELOUSAS, La. (AP) — The white man suspected in the burnings of three African American churches in Louisiana will remain in jail, denied bond Monday by a judge, as state prosecutors added new charges declaring the arsons a hate crime.
Twenty-one-year-old Holden Matthews, the son of a sheriff’s deputy, entered his not guilty plea via video conference from the St. Landry Parish jail. The judge set a September trial date.
In denying bail, state District Judge James Doherty sided with law enforcement officials who said they worried Matthews would try to flee the area or set more fires.
“We felt that he was an immediate risk to public safety,” said Louisiana Fire Marshal Butch Browning. “In my mind, I felt another fire was imminent.”
Testifying in court, Browning outlined a litany of evidence, including some new details of the investigation, that he said tied Matthews to the torching of the three black churches over 10 days.
The fire marshal described cellphone records placing Matthews at the fire locations, and he said images on the phone showed all three churches burning before law enforcement arrived and showed Matthews “claiming responsibility” for the fires.
Matthews, who had no previous criminal record, was arrested Wednesday on three charges of arson of a religious building. Prosecutors filed documents Monday adding three more charges, accusing Matthews of violating Louisiana’s hate crime law, confirming that they believe the fires were racially motivated, a link authorities had previously stopped short of making.