Jailed couple's lawyers seek change in venue

Date: 2005-07-12
Source: nj.com

Jailed couple's lawyers seek change in venue

Pair awaiting retrial in young boy's death

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Lawyers for a Hunterdon County couple in jail after the death of their adopted Russian son are asking that their retrial for manslaughter be moved to another county.

Both lawyers argued that the publicity before the first trial of Robert and Brenda Matthey was extensive and prejudicial. Even more coverage was generated by the trial itself, in which the couple were found guilty of child abuse, making it impossible to find jurors who will not be tainted by accounts of the death of Viktor Matthey, they argued in their briefs.

The Mattheys were convicted in May 2004 on three counts of child abuse, and each is serving 10 years in prison. However, the jury deadlocked on charges of reckless manslaughter and aggravated manslaughter, and a mistrial was declared on those counts. The Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office is planning to retry them on those charges.

The Mattheys adopted the Russian boy in December 1999. He died of cardiac arrest due to hypothermia in October 2000.

Lawyers for the Mattheys are asking that the retrial, which has yet to be scheduled, be moved to another county or that a jury from an outside county be brought in.

Robert Matthey's attorney, public defender Anderson Harkov, and a pool attorney appointed to represent Brenda Matthey, Roy Greenman, filed separate motions seeking a change of venue.

Harkov also is asking that the manslaughter charges against his client be dismissed on grounds of double jeopardy.

Harkov said the Mattheys already have been convicted on three counts of endangering the welfare of a child. One of those counts is based on allegations that Viktor was confined in a basement room that housed pumping equipment for their well.

In his brief filed July 1, Harkov said the Mattheys discovered Viktor was prone to temper tantrums and had sleeping problems after they adopted him.

"In order to control Viktor's behavior, the defendant along with his wife began a series of punishments to control his behavior," Harkov wrote. "One of these punishments consisted of confining Viktor in an unheated room, called the pump room, in the basement of their home."

Because the Mattheys already have been convicted of a crime based on the confinement of Viktor in the pump room, the state should not be allowed to try them on charges based on the same behavior, Harkov said in his brief.

He said the double jeopardy clause of the New Jersey Constitution and the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protect against multiple punishments for a single wrongdoing.

The state constitution says: "No person shall, after acquittal, be tried for the same offense." The Mattheys were not acquitted on the manslaughter counts.

The lawyers who represented the Mattheys in their original trial, James Broscious and Arthur Russo, asked to be dismissed from the case, saying bureaucratic problems with the public defender's office were hampering their ability to represent the couple. Though Broscious and Russo were hired privately, the Mattheys were deemed indigent and eligible for publicly funded legal services.

Broscious and Russo said they are planning to file a federal suit challenging the public defender system in New Jersey.

The Mattheys currently have appeals of their child abuse convictions pending.

Matthew Reilly works in the Hunterdon County bureau. He may be reached at mreilly@starled ger.com or (908) 782-8326.


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