Matthews set to be sentenced

BY ZHI XIONG | APRIL 17, 2009 7:32 AM

Micah Matthews will hear today what other sentences await him in addition to mandatory life in prison for his crimes.

In February, 6th District Judge Douglas Russell found Matthews guilty of first- and second-degree kidnapping and first-degree burglary. The burglary conviction includes a first-degree sexual-abuse charge.

But Matthews, 33, contended that his lawyers — Paul Miller and Davis Foster of Iowa City — misrepresented him. In an rare move, Matthews filed a series of letters questioning his guilty verdict and seeking post-conviction relief weeks before today’s sentencing.

“Being diplomatic, these challenges usually go through the appeals process first,” said Iowa City attorney Leon Spies, who is not involved with the case.

Miller and Foster could not be reached for comment Thursday. The two defended Matthews in a four-day bench trial in February. Russell heard testimony and handed down the guilty verdict without a jury.

The victim, 50 years old at the time, lived on Jema Court in Iowa City when she woke on June 5, 2007, to find Matthews at her bedroom door. Threatening her with a gun, he demanded $500. Matthews made her drive to an ATM, but the machine did not let her take out the money. Enraged, Matthews forced her back to her home, where he sexually abused and pistol-whipped her.
DNA evidence — based on a semen match from the victim’s vaginal swab — linked him to the attack.

An expert from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigations testified there is a 1 in 100 billion chance the DNA came from someone other than Matthews.

Matthews had doubts, however. In a handwritten letter dated April 8, he noted investigators never found the gun the woman said he used to fracture her nose. He refused to pay more than $1,600 restitution to the victim and argued — contrary to medical experts’ testimony — the woman did not suffer serious injuries.

Miller and Foster had asked for lesser charges for the same reasons.

In criminal cases, post-conviction relief includes several types of requests, such as a new trial or a different sentence. When the convicted person files the motion, the state must defend the conviction or sentence.

However, it is unlikely a motion will hold up in court if the defendant has not already exhausted the appellate process, said Barbara Schwartz, a UI clinical professor of law.

“I have no idea what the possible issues for [this particular] appeal might be, but it is very rare for a motion for a new trial to be granted,” she said. “Usually, a trial judge will let the appellate court decide once the jury or the judge has found the defendant guilty.”

Attorneys find it beneficial to go through the appellate court first. They may wish to defend their reputations against a client who accuses them of misrepresentation.

“If you say, ‘Hey, my lawyer did a lousy job,’ the lawyer should get the chance to reply,” Spies said. “That person is still your lawyer, even with those accusations.”

Matthews’ sentencing is set for 11 a.m. in the Johnson County Courthouse. Court records show Russell intends to address Matthews’ letters at this time, but he denied two of the requests Wednesday, including denying Matthews’ plea for new legal representation.

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