Many people in St. Landry Parish have told KATC they think the arson fires are, in fact, a hate crime. Although it may be, investigators have to build a solid case.
St. Martin Parish President Chester Cedars was a former prosecutor. Cedars said, “You don’t want to make that call or allegation until you can prove it.”
Currently, the suspect, 21-year-old Holden Matthews, isn’t facing “hate crime” charges, but that doesn’t mean it won’t change.
Matthews is accused of setting fires at three predominantly black churches.
Race, gender, and religion are all factors that can contribute to a “hate crime” classification.
Cedars said, “You have to prove the motivation was one of those classifications and you have to prove that intent element.”
Cedars also said hate crime is not the offense but an extra penalty.
The charges could change as the investigation continues. In order to charge an offender with a hate crime, Cedars says, “You just look at circumstances. They may have put on Facebook or social media, what they may have told friends… You have to look at a lot of other factors. You cant unfortunately go into someone’s mind and figure out what motivated them to do something.”
If convicted on his current charges, Matthews could face up to 45 years in prison.