Chesterton Tribune

Habitual offender status means long sentence for Matson

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By PAULENE POPARAD

Three previous felony convictions led the same jury that Tuesday convicted Christopher Matson of murder to declare him a habitual offender yesterday, a finding that could add an additional 30 years to his June 13 sentencing for the slaying of Porter businessman Rick Pinkerton last year.

Matson, 36, faces 95 years in prison if the maximum sentences are handed down on both the murder and habitual-offender counts; if so sentenced, Matson wouldn’t be eligible for release for 47 1/2 years.

Porter Superior Court Judge Thomas Webber will sentence Matson after reviewing legal arguments and conducting a hearing on a defense motion to dismiss the habitual-offender charge.

Public Defender Peter Boyles apparently will be working without the participation of his client.

Matson, dressed in bright orange jail clothing unlike his streetwear worn during the trial, was brought to court Wednesday and stated under oath he does not wish to be present for the balance of his legal proceedings. Matson also waived a pre-sentencing investigation and asked for an immediate sentencing date in a one-page letter to Webber dated May 16. Webber granted his requests and Matson was returned to jail.

Pending his ruling on Boyles’ motion, Webber said he will take the jury’s decision on the habitual offender count under advisement.

Tuesday, Pinkerton’s son, Jim, said of Matson, “My and (my) family’s concern is that this man doesn’t get out of prison to do this again.”

According to Boyles, “If the statistics are correct about life expectancy in jail, (Matson) wouldn’t get out.”

Prosecutor Todd Shellenbarger had sought the sentencing enhancement to keep Matson behind bars for his natural life when Indiana law did not allow the state to seek the death penalty due to the circumstances of Pinkerton’s slaying.

Matson, who once worked at Pinkerton’s U.S. 20 home and office as a landscaper, was convicted of firing three shots May 28, 2000 from his own .45 caliber Colt pistol through Pinkerton’s glass front door, fatally wounding the local oil distributor, then 56. Although never proved, robbery was the apparent motive in a case that relied virtually entirely on circumstantial evidence.

Matson continues to maintain his innocence and in his letter to Webber said he couldn’t be held responsible for what he might say if forced to remain in the presence of a jury that wrongly convicted him.

That jury took only 35 minutes Wednesday to find that Matson, originally of Griffith, was previously convicted of both robbery and attempted robbery in Lake County in March and April, respectively, of 1984, as well as of operating a vehicle while intoxicated in Porter County in October, 1998. The latter was an upgraded felony because Matson had a prior DWI conviction within five years.

Matson was sentenced to a total of 50 years on both robbery convictions to run concurrently; he spent almost 14 years in prison being discharged from the Indiana Department of Corrections in January, 1993. He later served about nine months on the Porter County DWI with two years of his three-year sentence suspended.

Regarding the request for sentencing enhancement in the Pinkerton conviction, Boyles told the jury, “This phase (of a trial) is confusing, even to attorneys.”

He stressed that the two Lake County robbery convictions were clearly related, not unrelated by separate commission, conviction and sentencing as required by law. Boyles later told reporters he’s confident the DWI cannot be used for sentencing enhancement, and that the habitual-offender finding will not be an issue at sentencing.

Shellenbarger told the seven-man, five-woman jury that the judge, not they, will sentence Matson, and he later told Webber out of the jury’s presence that he believes the state is on firm ground in seeking a harsher sentence.

A brief parade of witnesses was called by the prosecution Wednesday to verify criminal, driving and probation records, and the fact that it was Matson’s fingerprints taken at the time of booking for the felonies at issue.

Boyles, however, attacked that conclusion made by Indiana State Police criminologist Richard Oatess just as Boyles did during the eight-day trial. Upon cross examination, Oatess testified one set of fingerprints was “of average quality, not the best.” Boyles later told the jury that statement, “(is) troubling; it is severely troubling and it should be troubling to you.”

During a recess, Shellenbarger was asked how much the trial cost Porter County.

While he couldn’t estimate a figure, he did say it was a significantly more expensive prosecution to mount because witnesses and investigators had to be flown to and from Nevada and Arizona for depositions, preliminary hearings and trial.

Matson changed his name to Troy Gardow after serving his Porter County sentence and moved to Las Vegas in 1999. His ex-wife lives in Arizona.

When notified by relatives Porter County police were looking for him in connection with Pinkerton’s murder, Matson took and left several items, including the murder weapon, to Arizona for safekeeping, evidence which was subsequently recovered. Other items key to proving his guilt were recovered at his Las Vegas home.

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Text of Matson letter

The following is the complete text of a letter submitted Wednesday to Porter Superior Court Judge Thomas Webber by convicted murderer Christopher Matson:

Your Honor,

If it pleases the court, out of respect for the Judge, the court, my family, the victim's family, I would like to be removed from further proceedings.

I have pleaded not guilty in this case and I maintain that. I cannot sit here in good faith and hold my tongue.

(Twelve) people ignored the instructions set down to you from the court and in accordance to the evidence brought forth, including eyewitnesses and unidentified fingerprints left ample reason for reasonable doubt. Not to mention not being placed at scene of crime or having said weapon in hand.

Nevertheless, I was found guilty and will stand by that pending my appeals.

But, I fear I cannot be in the same room with people who ignore evidence of my innocence and reject it for what points to guilt. That in itself is contrary to what the law and instructions profess.

In conclusion, again I wish not to be disrespectful to the court and families and I can't be held responsible to what I may say.

Thank you,

Chris Matson

P.S. Also, your Honor, I wish for no pre-sentence investigation. I have conferred with my attorney and told him I will not participate. Immediate sentencing, if possible, I implore.