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Joel Matthews Charged With Capital Murder

Man accused of murdering two and setting fire makes first court appearance

A man accused of fatally bludgeoning two people and setting their home on fire in an attempt to cover the crime has been charged with capital murder.

The state added the charge to the two counts of murder and one count of arson currently pending against . Matthews is charged in the deaths of 57-year-old Noel Starback and 50-year-old Sherry Roush as well as the burning of a home 36 Blinman Street, where Matthews and Starback were residents, on Friday.

Capital murder is defined as murder committed any of a number of different circumstances, including the killing of two or more people, and is punishable by the death penalty. However, Judge Kevin McMahon noted at Matthews’ first appearance in the on Monday that the case comes as capital punishment is undergoing a change in the state.

Two days before the murders, the Connecticut House of Representatives passed a bill to repeal the state’s death penalty, following an earlier approval in the State Senate. The legislation, which does not apply to 11 people currently on death row, would replace the maximum state punishment for capital offenses with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

“Has the governor signed the new legislation yet? I didn’t even think of that,” said McMahon.

Gov. Dannel Malloy has not yet approved the legislation, but announced in a press release that he will do so when it reaches his desk.

According to a press release from Mayor Daryl Finizio’s office, Matthews admitted to police that he had assaulted Roush and Starback with a blunt object during an argument at the residence and set the fire to try to conceal the crime. Roush was dead when firefighters arrived at the residence and Starback was pulled from the burning building but later died at . Four other residents at the house were uninjured.

According to the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office, both Roush and Starback died of blunt head trauma. McMahon granted a defense to seal the prosecutor’s report in the case.

Matthews was held on $5 million cash or surety bond following his arrest, and a public defender sought to reduce the bond at his first court appearance. He said police officers twice visited Matthews after the fire and that Matthews was cooperative and did not try to escape after the first visit.

A state prosecutor asked to keep the bond high, saying the crime was “heinous in nature” and that Matthews had a violent criminal history.

Matthews was previously convicted of first-degree assault in 2006 and sentenced to 10 years in prison, suspended after three years, with three years of probation. According to archives, Matthews got angry when a group of people rapping outside on Ocean Ave. refused to let him join them. Matthews returned to the scene with a  .38-caliber revolver and fired one shot in the air before shooting a man named Kareem Smalls in the abdomen when he tried to take the gun away.

The probationary period for this conviction ended on Feb. 9. Matthews’ criminal history also shows that he was convicted of misdemeanor possession of marijuana in 2004 and fined $85.

McMahon set Matthews’ bond at $1 million cash only. Matthews will next appear in the on May 1.

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