Chesterton Tribune

Judge: Matson a career criminal

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Victim's son speaks at sentencing hearing

By PAULENE POPARAD

Porter County Superior Court Judge Thomas Webber called him “a career criminal.”

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Todd Shellenbarger called him “a cold-blooded killer” who he said planned an escape attempt and sharpened a toothbrush into a weapon while in Porter County Jail awaiting trial.

Christopher Matson, the subject of those characterizations, blamed everyone but himself for being sentenced Wednesday by Webber to 95 years in prison for last year’s murder of Porter businessman Rick Pinkerton in an apparent botched robbery of his U.S. 20 home.

Matson must serve at least 47 1/2 years of his sentence before being paroled. Under Indiana law, he was not eligible to receive the death penalty.

Maintaining his innocence to the end, Matson offered his condolences to Pinkerton’s family and expressed hope they find the same peace he wishes for those who believe in him.

The normally low-key Shellenbarger later called Matson’s statement “an outrage” and said, “As far as I’m concerned he deserves to do every day of that sentence.”

During a one-hour hearing, the prosecutor told Webber that Pinkerton’s murder was an eerie echo of a 1982 robbery in which Matson and three others went to the door of a private home, producing a sawed-off shotgun and shooting the homeowner when they refused to comply.

Pinkerton, then 56 and the co-owner of P&P Pinkerton Oil, was shot twice in his foyer with Matson’s Colt .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol. Evidence indicated Matson likely posed as a pizza delivery man to gain access to the home where Matson once worked as a landscaper.

Pinkerton’s son, Jim, spoke on behalf of his family Wednesday, asking Webber to impose the maximum sentence “to ensure the public is protected so no other family has to go through what we’ve gone through this past year.”

Pinkerton also asked, “How could this man take our father from us? How could he deliberately kill someone and just walk away? Such cruelty is incomprehensible to me...I"m not sure anyone who hasn’t lived through it can fully realize the impact losing a loved one in this way has on your life.”

Shellenbarger described Matson’s pre-sentence report as remarkable because “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Beginning with burglaries in 1979, Matson, now 36, has repeatedly committed criminal acts, been convicted and served time in prison or Boys’ School only to commit subsequent and more violent acts just months after each release, according to Shellenbarger. “He simply does not learn from penalty and punishment (and) is totally unwilling to face reality...when it comes to his lawlessness and violence.”

Before being led from the courtroom by four uniformed Sheriff’s Deputies, Matson took a parting shot at his public defender, Peter Boyles, the criminal justice system that convicted him using what he called “supposition, conjecture and innuendo,” and law enforcement officials who Matson said chose him as a fall-guy rather than finding the real murderer.

Matson criticized the jury that took just over an hour to convict him May 15 of murder and found him to be a habitual offender in the second phase of that trial. He also asked that Boyles be replaced as his attorney; Webber agreed to appoint a new pauper counsel for Matson’s planned appeal.

Neither Shellenbarger nor Webber found any mitigating circumstances that might reduce Matson’s sentence.

Boyles had argued that Matson’s previous conviction for felony operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated was not a felony that should be considered when applying habitual offender status, which boosted Matson’s 65-year murder sentence by a mandatory 30 years. A hearing took place Wednesday in Porter Superior Court Judge Robert Kennedy’s court on the OWI conviction, but he had not entered an order as of early this morning.

Shellenbarger’s only witness Wednesday was Porter County Sheriff’s investigator Mike Veal, who testified that Oct. 18 of last year jailers found a rope in Matson’s cell and a document describing overpowering a guard during medication-cart rounds. Veal said a second prisoner in solitary confinement, possibly Reggion Slater, may have been involved in the planned escape. Slater is awaiting trial for the Aug. 10, 1999 murder of Kathryn Pokorny of Chesterton.

Under questioning by Boyles, Veal said the document was never submitted for handwriting analysis and couldn’t be authenticated as being written by Matson.

Boyles also said because of the circumstantial nature of the state’s case and the fact that composite descriptions of the suspect provided by eyewitnesses didn’t match Matson’s appearance, “That leaves the very real possibility the court is sentencing an innocent man.”

Pinkerton’s many family and friends who attended the court proceedings daily didn’t buy it. They hugged and congratulated Shellenbarger after the sentencing in gratitude.

 

Son’s statement speaks to impact of murder

The following statement was read Wednesday in court by Jim Pinkerton, son of murder victim Rick Pinkerton, at the sentencing of Christopher Matson, convicted of shooting Pinkerton in an apparent robbery attempt:

My name is Jim Pinkerton and I’m speaking to you today on behalf of the entire Pinkerton family. I would like to give you a sense of what the past year has been for us, and in doing so, urge you to impose the maximum sentence possible for Christopher Matson.

“Our entire justice system is based on the premise of innocent until proven guilty. Painstaking care is given to each small detail in an investigation to make sure errors don’t occur that result in the conviction of an innocent person. Unfortunately, the same care was not taken by the system in assuring the public that Matson, a convicted felon, was rehabilitated before being released from prison and now an innocent man is dead.

“When I saw Mr. Matson during the trial, it didn’t elicit the strong feelings of rage I had anticipated. Instead, I felt a huge wave of loss. How could this man take our father from us? How could he deliberately kill someone and just walk away? Such cruelty is incomprehensible to me.

“I’m not sure anyone who hasn’t lived through it can fully realize the impact that losing a loved one in this way has on your life. In one moment, everything is normal and with the pull of a trigger, your life is never the same. Even a year later, our family is slowly coming to grips with the reality of the death of our father, brother and son. But every day we are confronted with the “nevers” of the future.

“We will never be able to stop by his office unexpectedly just to say “Hi”. He will never again be Santa Claus for his small grandson, Zachary -- he has already missed Zachary’s first ball game and losing his first tooth; and my children will never get to know this man’s love. It is so painful to think about those never-agains.

“Any time we do something for the first time following the murder, we feel the sting of his absence. Every family gathering will always be a reminder of the one who isn’t there. But the saddest thought to me is the children in our family who will never fully understand who my father was. To them, he’ll just be a picture on the wall and stories that we all remember a little differently. In just one short year, Zachary has already started to forget his grandfather. He now refers to the man he spent a great deal of time with as “the grandpa that died.”

“Father’s Day is just a few days away and the only gift my sister and I can give our father now is flowers for his grave. And at 96, our grandfather has been forced to live through the murder of a son that shook his life so much it has affected his health and, for a while, made him a virtual prisoner in his home out of fear.

“We’re happy that the jury allowed us to feel some justice for my father’s senseless death. But the man who killed him still has life. And without an explanation from Mr. Matson for his action, we still have no reason for my father’s death. It seems almost cruel to my father’s memory to impose anything less than the maximum sentence. If the minimum sentence were imposed, Matson could be out in less than 25 years. That thought terrorizes my family. Realistically, my father could have been 82 at that time. He doesn’t get to enjoy what should have been the rest of his life -- that was taken away from him.

“We only ask that Mr. Matson be given the maximum time to consider how he impacted our family’s life. Mr. Matson has been in prison before and obviously did not learn from those experiences. We want to ensure the public is protected so no other family has to go through what we’ve gone through this past year.”