(CN) – The Supreme Court on Monday restored the murder convictions against a Kentucky man who broke into his estranged wife’s home and killed his mother-in-law and then had sex with his wife and killed her too.
A three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit upended the 29-year-old convictions “based on the flimsiest of rationales,” according to the high court’s 13-page decision.
David Matthews apparently had a turbulent relationship with his late wife, Mary Marlene Matthews. The pair separated often, and police were often involved. In fact, weeks before Matthews’ rampage, he had spent three weeks in jail on charges that he sexually abused his wife’s 6-year-old daughter.
On June 28, 1981, Matthews borrowed money and bought a gun. In the middle of the night, he broke into the Louisville home he had previously shared with his wife, entered the room where his mother-in-law lay sleeping and shot her at point-blank range.
He shot his wife several hours later, at about 6 a.m. on June 29, after having sex with her “once or twice,” according to the court.
When police apprehended Matthews at his mother’s home later that day, Matthews had already begun to clean the clothes he wore during the murders and had buried the gun beneath the floorboards of a backyard shed.
A jury convicted Matthews of first-degree murder, and sentenced him to death, despite his attempts to reduce the charge to manslaughter because of alleged “extreme emotional disturbance.”
After Matthews exhausted his appeals options at the state-level, and before a federal judge, the 6th Circuit granted him habeas relief.
But the Supreme Court said the Cincinnati-based panel relied on invalid grounds.
For one, the facts do not show that the Kentucky Supreme Court impermissibly shifted the burden of proving extreme emotional disturbance to Matthews, and that the commonwealth had failed to prove the absence of extreme emotional disturbance beyond a reasonable doubt.
The decision also says that the jury had an appropriate basis to find Matthews did not suffer extreme emotional disturbance.
“As the Kentucky Supreme Court observed, Matthews’ claim of extreme emotional disturbance was belied by ‘the circumstances of the crime’ – including the facts that he borrowed money to purchase the murder weapon the day of the murders, that he waited several hours after buying the gun before starting for his wife’s home, and that he delayed several hours between shooting his mother-in-law and killing his wife,” the unsigned opinion states. “The claim was also belied by his behavior after the murders, including his ‘[taking] steps to hide the gun and clean his clothes.'”
Though Matthews’ psychiatrist, Dr. Lee Chutkow, painted a different picture, the Supreme Court said “it was not unreasonable to conclude that the jurors were entitled to consider the tension between Dr. Chutkow’s testimony and their own common-sense understanding of emotional disturbance.” (Emphasis in original.)
“In resolving the conflict in favor of Dr. Chutkow’s testimony, the Sixth Circuit overstepped the proper limits of its authority,” the decision states.
The Supreme Court also disagreed that the prosecution violated Matthews’ due-process rights during closing arguments.