Adopted Siberian Boy's Death Is Investigated in New Jersey

Date: 2000-11-16
Source: NY Times

Prosecutors in New Jersey are investigating the death of a 7-year-old Siberian boy whose adoptive parents have since been charged with endangerment and witness tampering.

The boy, Viktor Alexander Matthey, died on Oct. 31, at Robert Wood Johnson University Medical Center in New Brunswick, N.J., two days after the police received a 911 call from his home in Union Township, N.J., reporting that he was in cardiac arrest, said Steven Lember, the first assistant Hunterdon County prosecutor.

He said doctors measured the boy's body temperature at 83 degrees, 15.6 degrees below normal, and found 40 injuries, including scratches, bruises, swelling and open wounds, covering his small frame.

The autopsy has not been completed, however, and the cause of death has not been determined.

After reviewing the case, prosecutors arrested the parents, Brenda and Robert Matthey, on Nov. 8, on a charge of endangering the boy's welfare by failing to seek treatment for the injuries, said the county prosecutor, Stephen B. Rubin.

They were charged with tampering the following day, after their other children, who include Viktor's younger twin brothers, who were also adopted by the couple, and the couple's four nonadoptive sons, told the authorities that their parents told them not to talk about Viktor, Mr. Rubin said.

Mr. Rubin said his office was investigating whether actions of the couple caused the boy's death, in which case, more serious charges could be filed.

''We're waiting for a report, for some additional medical information, and we're also conducting a further investigation before we decide how we're going to proceed,'' he said. ''We still have work to do.''

Mr. Matthey, 37, a contractor, and Ms. Matthey, 35, a homemaker, are free on $30,000 bail each.

The State Division of Youth and Family Services took custody of the couple's six other children and turned them over to the parents of the Mattheys. Prosecutors obtained a temporary order preventing the children's parents from seeing them.

Lawyers for Ms. Matthey said yesterday that the couple had done nothing wrong and suggested that they were the victims of overzealous prosecution. They said Viktor might have had a congenital heart condition even before the Mattheys met him, and might have been suffering from a disorder in which he inflicted injuries on himself.

''There were problems with the child from Day 1,'' said James W. Broscious, who represents Ms. Matthey. ''There were physical problems, there were behavioral problems. Ultimately, the conditions that he had here led to his death.''

The case has attracted the attention of the Russian Consulate in New York, whose officials are to meet with prosecutors and child welfare officials today.

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