The widow of Wayzata police officer Bill Mathews on Friday faced the woman who took her husband’s life last fall on Hwy. 12 and gave a dramatic description of the toll his death has taken on her family.
Speaking in a crowded Hennepin County courtroom, Shawn Mathews said that she and her family are now serving a “life sentence without Bill.”
Then she paused for 12 seconds, the amount of time authorities say that Beth I. Freeman, 54, had to avoid hitting Mathews.
Her statement and one by her young son highlighted a tearful sentencing of Freeman for criminal vehicular homicide. Under the plea agreement, Freeman will serve eight years, two-thirds of it in prison and the last third on probation, as long as she commits no violations, said Judge Tamara Garcia.
Freeman, who had cocaine in her system at the time of the accident, was driving a Nissan Murano without a valid driver’s license last Sept. 8 when she struck Mathews, who was clearing debris on Hwy. 12.
In graphic detail, Shawn Mathews described the severe injuries her husband suffered, including many broken bones, damaged organs and a severed spinal cord.
Their son, Wyatt, who was 7 at the time of the accident, told the court, “That day changed my life forever. I can never play with my dad again.” He said it “makes me feel sad and lonely.”
The small courtroom was packed with about 50 people, including five uniformed Wayzata police officers who sat in the jury box.
In a short statement, Freeman said, “I hold myself accountable for the accident. I am extremely sorry for officer Mathews’ death.” As for his family, “I ask for their forgiveness.”
Assistant County Attorney Thad Tudor told the court that one reason for the lengthy sentence was Freeman’s eight prior offenses. She had three convictions for drunken driving and was on probation for a 2016 drug conviction, one of several such convictions, at the time of the accident.
After her arrest in Mathews’ death, she was sent to the Women’s Correctional Facility at Shakopee to serve out the remainder of that sentence, which will be served concurrently with the one handed down Friday. The judge credited her with 246 days served.
Freeman’s attorney, Andrea Ryan Anderson, described her client as a Christian who accepts responsibility for what happened and wants to make changes in her life.
“The media has portrayed [Freeman] as somewhat of a monster,” said Anderson. “Your honor, she is no such thing.”
Anderson also hinted at a different assessment of what occurred in the accident. After the sentencing, she told reporters that she had found experts who concluded that Freeman was not on her cellphone at the time of the accident, as police alleged.
She also said that Freeman had “much less than 12 seconds” to take evasive action. “A reasonable person couldn’t have stopped,” she said.
She said she agreed to the plea deal because Freeman wanted to accept responsibility, and she risked a 20-year term if she had been convicted at trial.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, who is not related to Beth Freeman, told reporters afterward that other drivers had seen Mathews on the road and moved to avoid hitting him.
“Often defense attorneys have creative versions of what they say the facts are,” he said. As for the claim she was not on her cellphone, he said, that point was not critical to prosecutors. “Clearly the way she drove was negligent,” he said.
Mathews will be honored Sunday in Washington, D.C., and Tuesday in St. Paul at candlelight vigils for officers who have died on duty.