Grandmother sues so brothers will get money recovered from 7-year-old Viktor Matthey's death

Date: 2010-03-30

 HUNTERDON COUNTY -- The grandmother of Viktor Matthey — the 7 year old who died at the hands of his adoptive Hunterdon County parents — is suing the couple on behalf of Viktor’s twin brothers.

Phyllis Matthey-Johnson adopted the twins after her son, Robert, and his wife, Brenda, were convicted of the abuse that led to Victor’s death in October 2000.The Mattheys adopted the three boys from Russia in 1999.

“What we’re basically trying to do is secure some financial damages for the children,” attorney Richard Pompelio said today. Pompelio, who also represented Viktor’s brothers and adoptive grandmother in the criminal case, filed the suit in Hunterdon County Superior Court earlier this month.

The twins, James and Jeziah Johnson, are 14 now. They live with Matthey-Johnson in Pennsylvania.

Messages left for Matthey-Johnson today were not returned. Two years ago, she told The Star-Ledger the twins were recovering from watching their older brother’s torture. She said the boys were gaining weight and staying active in sports and other activities.

At the Mattheys’ 2007 sentencing for manslaughter, Viktor’s brothers, then 11, gave a statement recounting the horrors of their year with the couple, including hearing Victor’s screams for help from the cold, damp basement where he was locked alone overnight as punishment.

The couple's four-year sentence was to run concurrently with an earlier sentence for child abuse. In November 2008, Robert Matthey was released from Southwood State Prison and Brenda Matthey from Edna Mahan Correctional Facility.

They are living in Camden County now, according to Pompelio.

The couple might come into money, Pompelio said, because when Viktor died, they owned their Union Township house. The couple pleaded guilty to negligence, not intentional acts of harm, so their homeowners insurance could cover it, he said.

“If there’s coverage, there should be funds for these children,” Pompelio said.

Viktor and his brothers were adopted by the Mattheys from the Russian Far East in 1999.
Ten months after he arrived in the United States, Viktor, skinny from malnourishment, went into cardiac arrest and collapsed, dying two days later of hypothermia.

The Mattheys said they were inspired by their church to adopt the children. At the time, they had four biological sons at home.

According to the lawsuit, the Mattheys should not benefit from Viktor’s life insurance or in any other way from his estate because their abuse led to his death.

In addition to locking Viktor in the dark basement room, the suit describes corporeal punishment such as physically restraining him for extended periods of time, sometimes in bathwater; spraying him with cold water for bedwetting; duct-taping his mouth shut at certain times and, at others, feeding him foods such as beans and barley which he was forced to eat rapidly before a buzzer went off. If he failed to eat the food in time, he was not allowed to have a drink, the lawsuit alleges.

Finally, the suit says the couple failed to get proper medical treatment for Viktor. Brenda Matthey did not seek medical help for the boy until he went into cardiac arrest on Oct. 29, 2000.


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