Opelousas native Holden James was charged by a federal grand jury in an indictment unsealed today for setting fire to and destroying three churches in St. Landry Parish.

The announcement was made by U.S. Attorney David C. Joseph for the Western District of Louisiana and Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.

According to the six-count indictment, Matthews intentionally set fire to St. Mary Baptist Church, Greater Union Baptist Church, and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church within the span of ten days.

It is alleged that he was motivated to set the fires because of the religious character of these properties.

Matthews is charged with the following crimes:

  • Three counts of intentional damage to religious property
  • Hate crime charges that fall under the Church Arson Prevention Act
  • Three counts of using fire to commit a felony.

In response to the indictment, U.S. Attorney David C. Joseph Stated,

“Attacks against an individual or group because of their religious beliefs will not be tolerated in the Western District of Louisiana. Churches are vital places of worship and fellowship for our citizens and bind us together as a community. Our freedom to safely congregate in these churches and exercise our religious beliefs must be jealously guarded. Today we are one step closer to justice for the parishioners of these churches and the St. Landry Parish communities affected by these acts. My office will continue to work diligently with our law enforcement partners to investigate and prosecute any type of hate crime."

If convicted, Matthews faces up to 20 years in prison per count of intentional damage to religious property.

In addition, Matthews faces a minimum of 10 years for the first count of using fire to commit a felony and 20 years for the subsequent counts, all to run consecutively.

He also faces up to three years of supervised release, a $250,000 fine and restitution for each of the counts.

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