Mattheys sentenced to 4 years for Viktor's death

Date: 2007-05-10

Robert and Brenda Matthey were sentenced today to 4-year terms in state prison for causing the death of their adopted Russian son Viktor Alexander Matthey more than six years ago.

The Hunterdon County couple - who are already serving 10-year prison terms after they were convicted of abusing Viktor in May 2004 - appeared in Superior Court in Flemington before Judge Roger Mahon. The judge approved a plea deal reached April 12 by the Mattheys and Hunterdon County prosecutors, which required the Mattheys to plead guilty to reckless manslaughter.

The guilty pleas marked the first time since Viktor died in October 2000 that the couple had taken any responsibility for the boy's death.

Robert Matthey, 43, and Brenda Matthey, 42, were sentenced to new 4-year prison terms on manslaughter charges, had their original 10-year sentences reduced to 7 years and agreed to drop their several outstanding appeals.

Several people attended the proceeding to show support for Viktor, including his 11-year-old twin brothers James and Jeziah Johnson, and his grandmother Phyllis Matthey-Johnson, Robert Matthey's estranged mother who adopted the twins after the 2004 trial.

The Matthey's four biological sons and several relatives were also in the courtroom. Both Robert and Brenda Matthey stood and told the judge of their remorse over losing Viktor.

The twins, who were 4 years old when the Mattheys adopted them from Russian orphanages along with Viktor in December 1999, stood in the same room with the Union Township couple for the first time since the 2004 sentencing. Their aunt delivered an emotional statement about their loss.

Viktor's life and death were the subject of a special report in The Star-Ledger in October 2001.

The new 4-year manslaughter terms are bound by the state No Early Release Act, meaning the Mattheys must serve 85 percent, or 3 years, 4 months and 26 days, officials said. But as part of the plea deal approved by Mahon, the prison time the couple has already served will count toward their parole eligibility, meaning they could be out of jail as early as December.

A spokesman for the state Parole Board declined to comment on the Mattheys' eligibility date in advance of the sentencing. He also would not elaborate on possible conditions they could face when parole is granted until after the board receives the sentencing agreement from the judge.

But in general, parolees who have committed crimes related to children can face additional sanctions - such as limited contact or supervised visitation - as well as standard parole conditions like submitting to searches and reporting to a parole officer, said the spokesman, Neal Buccino. Some parolees are also required to spend time in a halfway house, day treatment facility or counseling center, Buccino said.

The Mattheys became eligible for parole hearings on their child abuse sentences in October 2006 but opted to postpone that review indefinitely, according to the parole board.

The April plea deal followed a series of private meetings between Mahon, defense attorneys and prosecutors since August, when the judge ruled against dropping the manslaughter counts against the Mattheys on double jeopardy grounds and did not grant their request to move the retrial to a different county.

Hunterdon prosecutors had sought a retrial on the aggravated and reckless manslaughter counts since 2004, when the jury convicted the couple of child abuse but was unable to reach a unanimous verdict on the more serious charges.

Robert and Brenda Matthey, devout Christians with four biological sons, adopted Viktor and the twins from Russia in December 1999, when Viktor was 6 years old. Ten months after he arrived in the United States, Viktor stopped breathing on Oct. 29, 2000, and was rushed to the hospital.

Viktor arrived at the hospital with a body temperature of 83.2 degrees and died two days later. A medical examiner determined hypothermia was the cause of the boy's death and ruled the death a homicide. Numerous cuts and bruises also were found on Viktor's body.

Prosecutors have argued the Mattheys locked the boy overnight in an unheated basement "pump room" as a form of punishment the evening before he collapsed.

At the first trial, the Mattheys testified in their own defense, admitting to using the room to punish Viktor but denying ever leaving him there overnight. They said a rare nutritional disorder Viktor contracted in Russia had caused his death.

The jury in 2004 convicted the couple of three counts of child abuse for failing to provide Viktor with proper medical care, using excessive corporal punishment and locking him in the pump room. The Mattheys appealed those convictions, but the new plea agreement required them to drop all outstanding appeals.

After the trial, the twins were adopted by Matthey-Johnson, and are now living with her in Pennsylvania

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