Earlier this week the U.S. Supreme Court restored murder convictions against a Kentucky man who broke into his estranged wife’s home and killed his mother-in-law before raping and killing his wife.
A three-judge panel from the Sixth Circuit decided to overturn the nearly 30-year-old convictions which the Supreme Court was a decision “based on the flimsiest of rationales.”
David Matthews had a stormy marriage with his late wife, Mary Marlene Matthews and the two fought and reconnected many times. Just weeks before the murders, Matthews spent time in jail on charges that he sexually abused his wife’s 6-year-old daughter. In June of 1981, Matthews bought a gun and broke into the home he shared with his wife, entering the room where her mother was sleeping and shooting her at point-blank range. He then spent several hours having sex with his wife before shooting her too. When he was arrested later that day he had already started the process of destroying evidence, cleaning clothes and burying guns in the backyard.
A jury convicted Matthews of first-degree murder, and sentenced him to death. This was over his objections that the crimes occurred due to an extreme emotional disturbance on his part. The Sixth Circuit granted him relief after a series of appeals but the Supreme Court struck down the ruling, saying it was based on invalid grounds. The Court said that there is no evidence that the lower courts improperly shifted the burden of proving extreme emotional distress onto Matthews. The high court further stated that the jury had an appropriate basis to find Matthews did not suffer from an extreme emotional disturbance.
The Court wrote, “As the Kentucky Supreme Court observed, Matthews’ claim of extreme emotional disturbance was belied by ‘the circumstances of the crime’ - including the facts that he borrowed money to purchase the murder weapon the day of the murders, that he waited several hours after buying the gun before starting for his wife’s home, and that he delayed several hours between shooting his mother-in-law and killing his wife.” Furthermore, “The claim was also belied by his behavior after the murders, including his ‘[taking] steps to hide the gun and clean his clothes.’”
Despite the testimony during the trial by Matthews’ psychiatrist who attempted to show the disturbance the defendant was under at the time of the murders, the Court ruled that the jury was entitled to consider the doctor’s testimony along with their own “common-sense understanding of emotional disturbance.” The Court held that the Sixth Circuit went astray by resolving the matter in favor of the physiatrist’s testimony which was an act overstepping its authority.
To read the full opinion, click here.
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