said a loud music complaint led to an altercation in which he bludgeoned them with a baseball bat, according to documents released today.
Joel Matthews, 29, told police that he killed 57-year-old Noel Starback and Starback’s girlfriend, 50-year-old Sherry Roush, after they were belligerent toward him and attempted to assault him, according to a prosecutor's report. He said he set fire to the multifamily residence at 36 Blinman Street in an attempt to cover up the crime.
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Matthews also said his mother, 52-year-old Julie Vince, assisted him in setting the blaze. Police have investigated Vince but not charged her with a crime.
Matthews is charged with two counts of murder, one count of capital murder, and one count of second-degree arson. He entered not guilty pleas to the charges on May 24 in the .
April 13 fire
Firefighters responded to reports of a fire at the residence at about 8:23 p.m. on April 13. They discovered Starback in the kitchen and took him to , where he was pronounced dead. Roush was found dead and burned beyond recognition in another room.
According to a report by Detective Richard Curcuro, Starback and Roush’s injuries were inconsistent with fire fatalities. He said Starback had head trauma and a broken arm, while Roush appeared to have trauma to her face. The State Medical Examiner’s Office later characterized the deaths as homicides and determined that both were killed by blunt force trauma to the head.
Starback and Roush lived on the first floor of the residence, while Matthews and Vince lived on the second floor. Another resident, Joel Morrison, lived on the third floor.
Police seized several items from the scene, including an aluminum baseball bat which appeared to be stained with blood. Fire investigators determined that accelerants had been used on the stairs and second floor landing.
According to the affidavit by Detectives Matthew Galante and William Pero, police ruled out Morrison as a suspect. Curcuro said Morrison told police he left the house between 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. and saw Starback, Roush, Matthews, and Vince drinking together.
Vince called the on the morning of April 14 to say she and Matthews were staying at the . When officers arrived, Matthews was washing his jeans in the bathtub and had a wet pair of sneakers nearby. They also noticed cuts and bruises on his arms and hands, which Matthews said he may have gotten from working out.
Matthews and Vince initially told police that they left the residence on the evening of April 13 and took a bus to Mohegan Sun. They said they stayed overnight after learning about the fire on the evening news and checked into the inn the next morning. Curcuro said their accounts were similar, except that Vince said they missed one bus and walked around before boarding another one.
In a second interview, Vince said she saw Matthews and Starback fighting shortly before the fire. She said she left the house and returned to find Roush unmoving on the floor and Matthews in their room, “disheveled, sweating and scared like he was doing something and couldn’t turn back.”
Vince said she saw Matthews splashing what she thought was kerosene in the second floor hall and that he told her to go to Waterfront Park. She said he met her there and they went to Mohegan Sun, where he admitted to striking Starback and Roush with a bat. Vince denied any personal involvement in the murders or fire. According to Galante and Pero’s report, she received a psychological evaluation following Matthews’ arrest after she said she didn’t want to live and asked to use a detective’s gun.
Matthews agreed to a second interview with police on the evening of April 14 but requested that it be held at the Waterford Police Department rather than the New London station due to the media presence in New London following the fire. Curcuro said Matthews maintained his original account, but confessed to the murders after police confronted him with witness testimony and physical evidence.
“Matthews openly stated to detectives that he knew this was a double homicide and arson and it would mean being locked up for the rest of his life,” Curcuro’s report says. “Matthews then told detectives he committed the two murders against Noel Starback and his girlfriend Sherry Roush and that his mother had nothing to do with the victims being killed.”
Matthews said he had been drinking heavily with Starback and Roush during the day, and that Vince stopped in occasionally as well. He said Vince left sometime after dark to buy marijuana and he went upstairs to listen to music. Matthews said Starback and Roush started yelling about the music being too loud, and he got angry and went to confront them.
Matthews said Starback was belligerent and threatening to throw him out of the house. He said he pushed Starback to the ground after Starback tried to assault him and broke his phone after Starback attempted to call 911.
Matthews said he believes Roush then struck him in the hand with the baseball bat. He said he got control of the bat and struck both Starback and Roush in the head and face several times.
After calling Vince, Matthews brought her to the scene and suggested burning down the house to cover up the crime. He said he was not sure how to do so and Vince helped him by setting a fire in one part of the house while he started a fire in another area. Matthews said they went to Mohegan Sun afterward, and he washed his clothes the next day in an attempt to destroy evidence.
Police executed two search warrants each on Matthews and Vince, seizing clothing and taking DNA swabs. Another search warrant collected several items from the residence, including the bat, a lighter, a lamp oil container, gas can, beer containers, and fire debris.
Matthews was previously convicted of first-degree assault in 2006 after shooting a man named Kareem Smalls in the abdomen. Matthews was angered when a group of people rapping outside on Ocean Ave. refused to let him join them, and returned to confront them with a gun. Smalls was shot while trying to take the weapon away.
The court sentenced Matthews to 10 years in prison, suspended after three years, with three years of probation. The probationary period ended on Feb. 3. Matthews was also convicted in 2004 of a misdemeanor charge of possession of marijuana, for which he was fined $85.
According to Connecticut criminal records, Vince’s only criminal conviction is a misdemeanor breach of peace charge from June of 2008. Vince pleaded guilty to the charge in October of that year and received an unconditional discharge.