Battered wife wants husband to keep job She needs insurance after he stabbed her

December 07, 1996|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

When award-winning former Dunbar High School wrestling coach Damon Matthews stabbed his wife 10 times with a screwdriver in January, he left her partially paralyzed. He had violated a court order to stay away from her, and it wasn't the first time.

One might expect that Harriette Matthews would want him to serve the longest possible prison term. Instead, she wants something else: for him to be out of jail and working, so his health insurance can pay for treating her injuries.

Her request -- an illustration of yet another quandary for battered women -- has left a circuit judge with a potentially wrenching sentencing decision next month.

"It is an example of the desperation that battered women feel," said Carole Alexander, executive director of the House of Ruth. "I have not seen it very frequently. Usually women are terrified that [batterers] are going to get out of jail."

Still, Alexander said, prosecutors have an obligation to take the case forward, though they should consider Harriette Matthews' request.

Judge David B. Mitchell postponed sentencing until Jan. 15 after Harriette Matthews, using a cane, walked into his courtroom last week and announced she did not want her husband sent to prison.

"Her comments took me aback," the judge said this week. "They were a surprise development under the circumstances. He almost killed her. Now, the court has to make a very difficult decision regarding the wishes of the victim, the protection of society generally, and the defendant's desire to work."

Mrs. Matthews, 37, declined through her sister to talk about the case this week. But in a letter to Mitchell, she wrote that "it appears [no] one is really interested in my concerns regarding the above referenced case."

"What Damon did was unjustifiable, but I need restitution and health benefits during my recovery, if I recover at all," she wrote. "If he is sentenced to serve a prison term, I will no longer have this benefit.

"But most important, I pray that he has discovered the wrong and injustice he did to me physically, emotionally and financially."

Police officers were called to the 700 block of Montpelier St. on Jan. 10, where they found Harriette Matthews bleeding from 10 stab wounds to the head, wrist and back. The screwdriver was on the kitchen table. Shortly before that, Harriette Matthews had called police to say her husband was breaking into the house.

She was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center in serious condition. According to court records, she suffers paralysis in her lower left leg. In her statement to the judge, she wrote that she needed continued insurance payments for therapy and equipment to help her move around. She is unable to work full time.

Damon Matthews, 38, was charged that day with assault with intent to murder, assault with a deadly weapon and violating a restraining order.

In 1992, Mr. Matthews was convicted of beating Mrs. Matthews, who, according to court documents, reported that her husband had said, " 'Since we can't get along, just set my soul free.' Then he began beating me."

Mr. Matthews was found guilty of assault, but sentenced to probation before judgment, which included treatment at the House of Ruth. A year later, he was found guilty of violating his probation by testing positive for the drug PCP. He received a suspended six-month jail sentence.

In 1993, a judge granted Harriette Matthews a restraining order after she said, according to court documents, that her husband had "threatened" her and broken into her house by smashing a window.

Damon Matthews, a former Dunbar wrestling champion, was The Sun's 1993-1994 Baltimore City/County Coach of the Year.

He pleaded guilty to assault with intent to murder and using a deadly weapon in September. Under that agreement, he is to have all but up to 12 years of a 30-year sentence suspended, with his attorney free to argue for less.

Since February, he has been under the supervision of a private corrections program and permitted to live with an Islamic minister in Randallstown. He has also been in therapy for addiction, according to court papers. An addictions specialist wrote that Matthews had "accomplished more than most."

He works at the Baltimore Convention Center, setting up for events, and that is the job his wife wants him to keep.

At last week's sentencing hearing, prosecutor William D. McCollum asked that Matthews be given the maximum 12 years, in the interest of public safety and Harriette Matthews' protection.

Andre Murray of Baltimore, Mrs. Matthews' brother, agreed. "Our baby sister, in the prime of her life, was shot down to a semi-corpse," he said.

"I think 12 years is an extremely lenient sentence considering the viciousness of what he did. For them to let this guy out with nothing, that's a travesty. What she wants, it shouldn't matter. It's the crime he did himself."

Damon Matthews' lawyer, Warren A. Brown, says his client recognizes the wrong he's done and should receive probation so he can keep working.

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