Another brother describes beatings of Viktor Matthey

Date: 2004-03-12
Source: nj.com

Another brother describes beatings of Viktor Matthey

Friday, March 12, 2004

BY MATTHEW J. DOWLING
Star-Ledger Staff

Viktor Alexander Matthey was beaten with an aluminum baseball bat, two kinds of whips, belts and open-hand slaps by his parents, Robert and Brenda Matthey, in the months before the 7-year-old died of hypothermia in October 2000, one of Viktor's brothers told authorities.

Jonathan Matthey, now 12, detailed the abuse Viktor endured during a videotaped interview with a detective from the Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office on Nov. 8, 2000, a week after Viktor's death.

His older brother, Richard Matthey, 18, gave a similar statement to detectives the same afternoon about discipline practices in the Mattheys' home in Union Township, Hunterdon County. Richard told investigators his parents locked Viktor and his younger biological twin brothers, who were also adopted from Russia by the Mattheys, in an unheated basement pump room as a form of punishment.

"It's a dirty room," Richard said. "There's cobwebs. There's all kinds of bugs in there. They stayed in there overnight."

Prosecutors contend Robert and Brenda Matthey locked Viktor in the unlit, cement-floor pump room the night before he was rushed to the hospital on Oct. 29, 2000, with a body temperature in the low 80s. He was revived, but died two days later.

Richard Matthey said he did not know where Viktor slept the night before his heart stopped beating from hypothermia. But, he said, his parents instructed him not to mention the pump room incidents in the week between Viktor's death and the couple's arrest on aggravated manslaughter charges.

"They said if the police ask you anything about it, don't say anything because they might not understand," Richard told detectives after initially denying to them that the pump room was used for discipline.

Superior Court Judge Victor Ashrafi spent yesterday listening to the Matthey children's taped statements without the jury present as part of a hearing to determine whether their comments would be admissible when the Mattheys' trial resumes next week in Flemington.

The Mattheys' oldest son, Robert, testified before jurors on Tuesday and Wednesday about the use of the pump room and corporal punishment.

But prosecutors said his testimony differed dramatically from the information he provided to authorities in November 2000 and expected similar problems when the other Matthey children are called.

"We counted perhaps 10 or 15 prior inconsistent statements," Assistant Hunterdon County Prosecutor Harvey Lester said yesterday. "These children are going to support their parents come hell or high water."

The accusation drew an angry response from defense attorney James Broscious, who accused Lester of grandstanding. He said Robert Matthey's testimony had only minor deviations from his statement in November 2000.

Ashrafi has yet to rule on whether prosecutors will be allowed to submit the statements by the Mattheys' four biological sons as evidence to the jurors. He plans to view a videotape of Raymond Matthey's interview with detectives on Monday.

Broscious said he plans to have Robert and Richard Matthey testify Monday about how they were "interrogated" by detectives in November 2000. He said investigators intimidated the Matthey children into giving statements and used leading questions to solicit answers to help the prosecution.

If ruled admissible, Jonathan Matthey's November 2000 statement could prove particularly damaging to the defense because he detailed other occasions when Viktor would be exposed to cold as punishment.

Jonathan said Viktor was forced to sleep in a crib in the family garage and would be given cold showers if he wet himself.

"They'd turn it all the way to cold and put him in," said Jonathan, who was in second grade at the time. "Sometimes he'd sleep in the tub with nothing but training pants or a diaper."

While Jonathan said he did not know where Viktor slept the night before he was rushed to the hospital, he said Viktor appeared ill that morning before his family left for church. Brenda Matthey stayed behind with Viktor, he said.

"His face was very skinny," Jonathan said. "He couldn't walk. He was really sick. My dad was holding his hands up. He had a lot of bruises."

Jonathan also told authorities that all of the Matthey children were struck with a cat-o'-nine-tails and a 5-foot whip, as well as spanked with an open hand or belt. Jonathan also said Viktor and the twins were made to march in place while holding an aluminum bat over their heads, and were struck with it if they stopped marching before they were told.

Testimony from the Matthey children in front of the 10-woman, six-man jury is expected to resume Tuesday after Ashrafi concludes the hearing regarding their prior statements to detectives. The trial is expected to last through April.

If convicted of aggravated manslaughter, Robert and Brenda Matthey each face up to 30 years in prison. The Mattheys also are charged with endangering the welfare of a child and tampering with witnesses.

Staff writer Matthew J. Dowling can be reached at mdowling@starledger.com or (908) 782-8326.

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