Matthess re-sentenced to life in a state prison
“What was in your poisoned mind?” Judge David W. Hummel, Jr. asked defendant Larry O. Matthess, who was re-sentenced to life in prison in Tyler County Circuit Court Thursday. “What a sick mind you had, to even utter those words.”
Judge Hummel was referring to a transcript of a tape-recorded conversation of Matthess, who was convicted in Tyler County Circuit Court in June of 2001 on two counts: felony solicitation of the burning of an insured building and felony retaliation against a witness. In a murder-by-hire plot, Matthess offered $5,000 to another person for the purposes of “silencing” a minor he was accused of sexually abusing. The solicitation of the burning (of property Matthess owned) was to obtain insurance money to pay for the crimes. The person he solicited informed police of Matthess’ intentions.
In the transcripted remarks from the original case, the tape says, “I just don’t want him to breathe,” referring to the victim of his sexual crime, who he reportedly wished to have silenced. This evidence prompted the above comment from Judge Hummel as he handed down Matthess’ second sentence to life in prison.
“In my mind, this was a crime of violence,” Hummel continued. “Whether or not the crime was committed, the intent to harm was there. You have proven, time and time again, that you have no qualms about breaking the law. I have looked at your (criminal) history, and it comes down to this. I’ll sleep well tonight, even though I sentence you to life.”
At the time of the original sentencing hearing, presiding Judge Mark A. Karl provided the jury with information about Matthess’ three other felony convictions: a grand larceny conviction in 1990; a burglary conviction in 1995; and a breaking and entering conviction in 1998. The last two felony convictions, in conjunction with his recidivist history, resulted in a life sentence for Matthess, who served time in the West Virginia Penitentiary for Men for some time before being transferred to the St. Marys Correctional Facility in Pleasants County, where he currently remains incarcerated.
Matthess, who has served over 10 years in prison to date, appealed to the West Virginia Supreme Court to have his conviction overturned and was denied in a vote of four to one. He also filed a writ of habeas corpus with the state Supreme Court, which is a judicial mandate to a prison official ordering that an inmate be brought to the court so it can be determined whether or not that person is imprisoned lawfully and whether or not he should be released from custody.
The writ of habeas corpus filed in Tyler County was waived in order for Judge Hummel to reconsider sentencing. Matthess, through his attorney, asserted in circuit court on Thursday that his two convictions and his recidivist past did not meet the standard for the mandatory life sentence imposed by the West Virginia “three strikes” law.
Attorney for the defendant John J. Pizzuti argued that under the three strikes law, if the punishment exceeds the seriousness of the crimes, life in prison is considered “cruel and unusual.” The defense asserted there was no violence actually committed, since the plot to burn down the building and hire a person to “silence” a witness never actually transpired.
The “factual impossibility” of the crime did not negate the intent of the crime, which was violent, argued attorney Gary L. Rymer, who represented the state in this case. According to state law, any person who solicits another to commit a violation of the law which constitutes a felony crime of violence against the person is guilty of a felony. (WV code 61-11-8a),
“Mr. Matthess seems to prove, time and time again, that he is capable of anti-societal acts,” Judge Hummel informed the court. “While I am confident that (Matthess) has received some degree of rehabilitation from the Department of Corrections, it is the job of the court to prevent same or similar acts against the community.”
Hummel informed Matthess that his sentence held the possibility of parole as he handed down the verdict. At the time of Matthess’ original 2001 conviction, Judge Mark Karl informed Matthess he could be eligible for parole in approximately 15 years. Matthess was remanded to the WV Department of Corrections.