The defense attorney for Matias Perry spoke at length Thursday about the prosecutor’s characterization of the 2010 murder of Matthew Chew, saying he could not excuse Perry’s role in the attack on Chew but that he believes the state has inflated the severity of some aspects of the case and that Perry could have received a more lenient sentence.
Peter Scillieri said he did not expect a change in Perry’s agreed upon sentence to serve 15 years of a 20 year sentence with five years of probation. However, he said he disagreed with arguments raised by Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Steve Carney, including that the six men charged in Chew’s death were part of a gang called the “Goon Squad” and that they went into New London to “hunt an individual to hurt.”
“There was no agreement to go out and kill somebody,” said Scillieri.
Judge Susan B. Handy said she appreciated Scillieri’s defense and also did not believe the whole group went out with the intention of committing murder. But she said that since Perry has entered a plea and a sentence has been agreed upon, the hearing was not the proper venue to argue the facts of the case.
“The bottom line is somebody died,” said Handy.
In addition to the prison sentence, Perry—who is 19 years old—must abide by several probation conditions including obeying the law; having no contact with his co-defendants or Chew’s family; undergoing substance abuse and psychological evaluation (with treatment if necessary); not possessing any weapons; having no association with gang members, felons, drug users, or drug dealers; continuing his education; making restitution of $4,200 to Chew’s family; and completing at least 15 hours of community service each week unless he finds work.
Aside from 19-year-old Idris Elahi, who was convicted of murder last year and sentenced to serve 35 years in prison, each defendant in the case has accepted an offer to plead to first-degree manslaughter. Carney said he considered that Elahi may have been the only one of the group who intended to stab someone, but that the others knew he had a knife and displayed “reckless disregard” for human life by assisting in the assault on Chew.
Elahi, Perry, and co-defendant Rashad Perry (no relation to Matias) did not cooperate with the investigation into the murder. Matias and Rashad each received a 15 year prison sentence, while the three co-defendants who cooperated with investigators have agreed to eight year sentences. Carney said the defendants had a right to remain silent and that the longer sentences were not meant as punishment for their non-cooperation, but rather for their individual role in the attack.
Rashad was accused of daring Elahi to stab someone before the group went out. Matias’ co-defendants identified him as the person who opened the attack on Chew, asking him for a lighter and striking him in the face as he reached into his pocket to retrieve it.
“Matias stands out in the state’s mind as the person who first made an aggressive action toward Matthew Chew,” said Carney.
Scillieri said that he thought there are a number of factors that could be taken into account at a later date, perhaps if Matias is eligble for parole.
“I think your sentence is appropriate,” Scillieri told Handy. “I think it should be lower.”
Scillieri said he thought Carney had exaggerated some aspects of the case, including the characterization of the Goon Squad as a gang. He said the group did not have any symbols of an organized gang such as tattoos, gang colors, or a charter.
“Their gang consists of their name and being in Idris’ house,” said Scillieri.
Scillieri also argued that Matias and the other defendants were more susceptible to stress and peer pressure due to their youth. He also objected to Carney’s description of the group going into New London as a “hunt,” saying this implies that they intended to kill and that he did not believe anyone with the possible exception of Elahi intended to do so.
“It is, I think, giving an erroneous cast to something that is bad enough on its own,” he said.
Scillieri said he felt Elahi’s sentence should have been more severe. He said Matias’ decision not to testify at Elahi’s probable cause hearing stemmed from his belief that the state's sentencing proposal would be more severe and that Elahi would opt to go to trial, allowing Matias to testify there.
“Matias didn’t make a mistake. His lawyer made a mistake,” said Scillieri.
In other sentencings, Carney has also said Chew’s murder had a damaging effect on New London as a whole due to fears of a similar attack. Scillieri compared these to fears that arose after the "Central Park Jogger" case in 1989, saying he considered the circumstances of the murder to be unprecedented but unique and unlikely to be repeated.
“New London has nothing to be ashamed of…and nothing really in my mind to be afraid of, because this is a one-off,” said Scillieri.
In prior testimony, some of the defendants have stated that the six men met at Elahi’s home on the evening of Oct. 29, 2010. After playing video games, they became bored and decided to go into New London to assault a random person. Rashad Perry (no relation to Matias) dared Elahi to stab someone, and the two started to “dap it up”—or make an oath committing to the act—before two others stopped them.
The group briefly spoke with a teacher they knew after seeing him downtown and decided not to attack other people who appeared to be going to a Halloween party. They started following another person but stopped when he got into his car. They finally came upon Chew, a 25-year-old chef at 2 Wives Pizza, walking home from work to his Washington Street apartment.
The three co-defendants who testified against Elahi at his probable cause hearing all said the assault began when Matias asked Chew for a lighter and then hit him in the face.
These co-defendants also testified that Chew was assaulted further before they saw what they thought was Elahi punching him in the stomach. They learned the next day that Chew had been fatally stabbed six times. After a passerby found him lying in the street at the corner of Huntington Street and Jay Street, Chew was taken to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital and then to Yale-New Haven Hospital; he died of his injuries early the next morning.
According to a police affidavit, Matias’ girlfriend told police Matias had been with her on the evening of the incident but later admitted that he had told her about the incident. She said Matias told her that Elahi and Singleton stabbed Chew.
Elahi, 19, entered an Alford plea to murder on Feb. 22, 2012. He is serving a 35-year prison sentence following his sentencing on May 23.
Matias was originally charged with accessory to murder, and on Nov. 29 he entered an Alford plea to first-degree manslaughter to accept the state’s recommended sentence.
Chew’s parents, Richard and Marilyn Chew, have spoken at each sentencing. Richard said the family’s gatherings since Chew’s murder have had a more dolorous feel because Chew is not there. He said he has been told he will be able to stop dwelling on his son’s death and focus instead on his accomplishments, but has not yet done so.
“The establishment of a scholarship for the arts in his honor might be the lighting of one candle. But I still curse the darkness,” he said.
Marilyn has spoken against any reduction in the agreed upon sentence for any defendant, saying Matias opened the assault on Chew as he was doing something nice by going to lend him a lighter. She said she has had trouble sleeping and suffered depression since Chew’s death.
“The pain is so fresh that it could have been yesterday,” she said.
Mindy Fowler, Chew’s sister, said Chew was given a “death sentence for walking down the street” and would not be able to realize any of his aspirations, including becoming a father.
“The cowardly actions of Matias Perry are a disgrace to this community and a disgrace to humanity,” she said.
Scillieri encouraged Perry’s mother to address the court, but told Handy she was unable to. He said she commented that her reaction to a slideshow of photos of Chew was, “I was thinking that could be my son.”
Matias did not address the court, but Scillieri read notes he had given him during the proceeding. One, written at the end of the sentencing, said he did not mean any disrespect by remaining silent.
“I’m sorry for not being able to handle the sentencing properly,” the note read in part.
“If I could take it back I would”
Handy has thanked the Chews for attending this week’s sentencings, saying she hopes the family finds some closure in the resolution of the cases.
“Every day he becomes more of a person to me,” said Handy. “It’s very important, as you said Mrs. Chew, to know who he was.”
Handy also said Matias had apologized during a pre-sentencing interview, saying, “If I could take it back, I would. I’m sorry for the victim and I’m sorry for his family.”
Rashad, 19, received the same sentence as Matias on Monday. Brian Rabell, 21, and Tyree Bundy, 20, were also sentenced this week and will each serve eight years in prison.
Marquis Singleton, 19, will be the final defendant to be sentenced in the case on Friday. He accepted a plea offer identical to the one offered to Rabell and Bundy.