LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - A federal judge has upheld the death sentence of Kentucky's third-longest serving death row inmate saying a trial judge didn't err in interpreting the law and his lawyers were adequate.
U.S. District Judge John Heyburn III reversed a recommendation by a magistrate judge and ruled that David Eugene Matthews isn't entitled to a new trial after 27 years.
Matthews, 60, was sentenced to death Nov. 11, 1982 in Louisville for the murders of his wife, Mary "Marlene" Matthews, and mother-in-law, Magdalene Cruse, on June 29, 1981.
U.S. Magistrate James Moyer's recommendation was based on a finding that the trial judge erred in handling Matthews' claim of "extreme emotional disturbance" at the time of the killings and that his attorneys failed to argue on appeal that jurors were not properly instructed about how to handle the defense.
Heyburn, in a 19-page decision released Wednesday, said the law on extreme emotional distress is complex, but the trial judge made the right calls, as did the attorneys.
Kentucky's law at the time Matthews went to trial required prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Matthews did not suffer from extreme emotional distress. Moyer found that prosecutors failed to put on any expert witnesses to rebut Matthews' claim, which should have prompted the trial judge to order Matthews acquitted on the murder charges, and the jury should have been instructed about what prosecutors had to prove.
Heyburn, though, found enough evidence in the record to back the trial judge's decision.
Heyburn noted that Matthews spent several hours in the house before finishing his "crime spree" and later discussions with his mother suggest he acted deliberately and had an understanding of what happened.
"The method of committing this crime would suggest to reasonable jurors some quiet contemplation and thought on Matthews' part," Heyburn wrote.
Heyburn added that the absence of extreme emotional distress "could be inferred from the careful steps that Matthews took to conceal his crimes during and after their commission."
Heyburn upheld all of Moyer's other recommendations, rejecting a slew of arguments from Matthews.
Kentucky has executed three men since 1976. The last person executed was Marco Allen Chapman by lethal injection in November. The state currently has 36 people on death row.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)