By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers
TAYLOR — The sentence doesn’t change the loss, but Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Robert Stevens said life in prison for convicted killer Tyress Mathews is an appropriate end for the murder of Taylor Police Cpl. Matthew Edwards.
“He can stay behind bars with people he belongs with,” Stevens said. “With cop killers and child rapists.”
Mathews, 37, was sentenced Monday to life in prison without parole by Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Ulysses Boykin. After a nearly three-week trial last month, a jury found Mathews guilty of premeditated first degree murder, murder of a peace officer and other crimes to include habitual offender.
Mathews previously served time for violent crimes. Taylor Police Chief Dale Tamsen said that Mathews should never have been released from prison.
“Tyress Mathews had an extensive criminal record,” Tamsen said. “He had been charged with several robberies and attempted murder. A prison psychologist once described him as a ‘lethal and violent individual.’”
Mathews’ record began in 1991, when he was found guilty of assault with intent to commit murder and armed robbery — four separate convictions for crimes dating back to 1990, when he was 16 years old. Mathews served nearly 13 years in prison and was released in early 2004. In 2006 he plead guilty to fleeing and eluding and served three years in prison.
“Unfortunately, he worked the system and got out,” Stevens said. “Now he’s back where he belongs.”
Mathews’ attorney, Todd Perkins, did not respond to requests for comment. During closing arguments last month, Perkins introduced several motions in attempts to reduce the charges with claims that premeditated murder had not been proven.
Stevens called the trial a “pressure-packed case,” with more than 100 pieces of evidence and dozens of witnesses testifying to the events of July 23, 2010. Shortly before 6 a.m., Edwards and his partner, Cpl. Gregory Piche, responded to a domestic disturbance call from the Coppertree apartment complex in the 1200 block of Pine.
Neighbors told how Mathews was arguing with his estranged wife, a scene that was familiar in the complex. Edwards and Piche first encountered Mathews in the parking lot, where he explained he was trying to get his keys from his wife’s apartment. Edwards stayed with Mathews while Piche went to the apartment to speak with Mathews’ wife.
Witnesses said Mathews then reached into a book bag, withdrew a pistol and shot Edwards a total of six times, the first bullet aimed at the officer’s head.
Eyewitnesses included apartment complex resident Marcellis Grover, who testified that he saw Mathews fire the first shot. During the trial, Perkins raised questions about Grover’s credibility, claiming there was a previous history between the men.
Additional evidence and testimony recalled the scene, how Piche fired at Mathews and disabled him. He was on the pavement when additional Taylor Police officers arrived and took him into custody.
“We did a safe trial, an appellate-proof trial,” Stevens said. Some evidence was challenged, while other aspects — including Mathews’ previous convictions — were not introduced in favor of sticking with what Stevens considered a strong case.
“We intended to box him in and cut off any avenues of escape,” Stevens said. “My job is to choke him out and make sure he doesn’t have a defense.”
Taylor Police Cmdr. Mary Sclabasi said the sentencing brings to an end a great tragedy.
“We are extremely relieved that these proceedings are finally behind the department and the entire Edwards family,” Sclabasi said. “Tyress Mathews is a dangerous person who will never be able to hurt anyone again.”
“This guy belonged in prison,” Stevens said after the sentencing. “He doesn’t care about anything or anyone. The officers protect and serve; this guy destroys and takes. [Edwards’] children and widow should know he’s a hero, he always will be a hero.”
Tamsen called the verdict and sentence a victory for the Taylor Police Department, and noted that Edwards was the city’s first officer to be killed in the line of duty.
“Tyress Mathews will not be able to hurt our society again,” Tamsen said. “Tyress Mathews has not won and he has not beaten us. Our department is more solid, more committed and more united than ever. That was Matt’s gift to us.”
(James Mitchell can be reached at [email protected])