Matthews sentenced to life for former girlfriend's murder

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 29, 2008 - 11:37 PM

Zachery Matthews got life for killing his girlfriend - and bitter words from her enraged mother.

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Kristine C. Larson

For strangling his 19-year-old girlfriend, Kristine Larson, with a shoestring noose, Zachery O. Matthews will spend his life in prison and never see the couple's nearly 3-year-old son again.

"She went out, thanks to you, with a ligature around her neck," Hennepin County District Court Lloyd Zimmerman said at Wednesday's sentencing. "For that, Zachery Otis Matthews, you will never see the light of day."

Larson's mother, Deborah Tilson, said she still can't bring herself to put away the ingredients she and Larson planned to use for their marathon Christmas-cookie baking session, which was supposed to start the night her daughter was killed. To Matthews, she said, "Let me ask you one thing: Why? All we ever did was try to help you, and all you did was take, take, take."

Matthews, 22, was convicted by a jury last week of first-degree murder, two additional murder counts and interference with a body. He was sentenced to life without parole as expected, but the court allowed unusually long victim-impact statements.

Tilson was the first of many speakers during an hour's worth of sad, angry words from family, friends and the woman who found Larson's body in the alley behind her Minneapolis house.

Prosecutors said Matthews killed Larson in December -- after three years of abuse -- in his St. Paul apartment in front of their son, then nearly 2 years old. Matthews was angry because Larson, of St. Paul Park, arrived at 2:30 p.m., 30 minutes later than he expected her. She also had recently ended her relationship with him and started to see another man.

Still, she planned to drive him and their son to a Christmas charity event in Minneapolis that day. Instead, Matthews killed her. He then stuffed her body into the backseat of her own car, drove it to Minneapolis and tried unsuccessfully to torch the remains.

The case was featured on "The First 48," a cable show in which television crews follow homicide detectives as they work to solve cases in the first 48 hours after a killing. On the show, Matthews was seen explaining to Sgt. Richard Zimmerman that he didn't kill Larson, but he did find her body in his apartment closet.

Cried on the cop's shoulder

Zimmerman told Matthews that it just doesn't happen that way. Matthews was later seen literally crying on the shoulder of Sgt. Tammy Diedrich.

Throughout Wednesday's sentencing session, Matthews kept his head down, looking up only once to view a photo of his son. At times he appeared to plug his ears. He initially refused to come over from the jail with deputies so Zimmerman had to issue an order to compel deputies to use necessary means to get him there.

When Zimmerman asked him whether he wanted to address the court, Matthews said, "I don't have anything to say."

A mother's wrath

But Tilson had much to say in a long letter written to address Matthews even though victims aren't supposed to directly address convicts. She talked about how her daughter met Matthews, who claimed to have no family, no support and no money.

"We took you in as one of our own," she said, adding that the family helped him get enrolled in school and drove him to ROTC. "We truthfully believed he could amount to something."

Her daughter loved Christmas, the first snowfall and helping poor people in the inner city. "The defendant was her mission," Tilson said. She recalled how her daughter beamed as she "coached" Matthews in opening his Christmas gifts from her family and how she saved him from jumping off a bridge.

In an often angry speech, she told Matthews he should have jumped, and he would have floated because, "You're just a big piece of crap to me."

Tilson said she is proud to be raising the couple's son.

"I thank God he will never know you," she said to Matthews.

Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747

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