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Federal hate crime charges filed in black church fires

NEW ORLEANS — The U.S. Justice Department says it’s filing federal hate crime charges against a Louisiana man in connection with three fires that destroyed African American churches earlier this year.

A news release from the department says 21-year-old Holden Matthews faces three counts of “intentional damage to religious property,” which are hate crime charges. He’s also charged with three counts of “using fire to commit a felony.”

The indictment says the fires were set “because of the religious character” of the properties.

Matthews already faced state charges in the church burnings. He has pleaded not guilty in the state case.

Three historic African American churches were burned in a span of 10 days, beginning in late March, in and around the city of Opelousas.

The June 6 federal indictment was unsealed Wednesday.

Kevin McGill, The Associated Press