Hate crime charges filed in Louisiana church fire

Free Press wire reports | 4/19/2019, 6 a.m.
The white man suspected in the burnings of three African-American churches in Louisiana will remain in jail, denied bond Monday ...
Investigators do an initial investigation at the scene of the fire on March 26 at St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, La. Photo courtesy of Louisiana State Fire Marshal

A pretrial hearing in the case was set for July 17, with jury selection scheduled to begin Sept. 10.

Through Mr. Browning’s testimony, prosecutors gave more insight into the evidence that law enforcement used to build their case against Mr. Matthews.

The fire marshal said a receipt shows Mr. Matthews bought a gas can and a package of oil rags similar to those found at the site of the fires. A lighter and the package of oil rags, missing some of its contents, were found in Mr. Matthews’ truck, Mr. Browning said. He said Mr. Matthews documented the fire on his cellphone, while video surveillance in the area around the churches showed a truck similar to the one Mr. Matthews drives. Mr. Matthews had copies of news reports about the fires on his phone as well, Mr. Browning said.

“He actually superimposed himself on those news reports, claiming responsibility for these fires,” Mr. Browning said.

In addition, Mr. Browning said video on Mr. Matthews’ phone showed a conversation with a friend before the fires in which he talked about burning churches and using gasoline to do it. The fire marshal said Mr. Matthews posted on Facebook about and showed interest in a movie called “Lords of Chaos,” which Mr. Browning said is a recent Norwegian film that involved church burnings.

Mr. Matthews had shown interest in “black metal,” an extreme subgenre of heavy metal, Mr. Browning said. The music has been linked, in some instances, to fires at Christian churches in Norway in the 1990s.

“The evidence we have was unequivocal,” Mr. Browning said. Later, he added, “He has clearly demonstrated the characteristics of a pathological fire setter.”