Defense rests; closing arguments start Friday in 15-year-old murder
Michael David Mattson called himself a liar and a chicken -- but not a murderer -- Thursday in Douglas County Circuit Court.
Myrna Jean Clemons, 50, was found beaten to death on Feb. 19, 1993, in the home the two shared. Mattson was on Huber work release from jail that day to work the couple's scrap business. He was serving the jail sentence for two previous assaults on Clemons.
"Did you hit Myrna Clemons that day?" asked Mattson's attorney, First Assistant State Public Defender J. Patrick O'Neill.
"No," Mattson said.
"Did you cause her death that day?" O'Neill asked.
"No," the Superior man said.
Yet Mattson confessed to the murder Oct. 23, 2006, and admitted it again it two subsequent police interviews. He told Superior police he killed Clemons by hitting her twice in the head with a piece of firewood before leaving for a scrap run.
"Those are lies," Mattson, 56, told the court.
"Mike, if you're telling us today that you did not kill her, why on earth would you go in on the 23rd of October and claim that you did?" O'Neill asked.
"Because my situation wasn't very good, um, and I wanted to get back on my anti-depressants, get to jail to get 'em," said the Superior man.
Mattson said he was broke, alone and sleeping on the floor with a blanket when he hatched the plan to go back to jail. Unable to afford the $20 for his prescription medications, Mattson said he contemplated suicide by stabbing himself, jumping out the window or ramming his head into the wall.
"I thought about doing them; I just didn't do it," Mattson said. "I'm, I'm a chicken."
Instead, he decided to confess to murder.
" ... that was the plan, to go to jail," he told the court.
Assistant District Attorney Jim Boughner questioned Mattson's story. The Superior man has 24 convictions on his record, which translates to time behind bars.
"And you were able to get into jail or prison without having to confess to any homicide, including this homicide, correct?" Boughner asked.
"Yes," Mattson said.
"You knew how to get to jail," Boughner continued.
"Those times I didn't want to go to jail," Mattson said.
In fact, Boughner said, the quickest way for Mattson to get back behind bars would have been for him to drink alcohol.
"I didn't have the money to go drinking," Mattson replied.
Boughner also pointed out that at the beginning of the Oct. 23 interview with police, Capt. Chad La Lor told Mattson they didn't want him to come in and confess just so he could have a place to go. Two days later, Special Agent John Christopherson with the Wisconsin Department of Justice asked if Mattson knew what a false confession was.
"If you'd been making a false confession, that would have been the time to state that," Boughner said.
"Yes, but I wanted to go to jail," Mattson said.
He said he wasn't thinking clearly at the time because he was sunk in chronic depression.
Boughner wrapped up his case against Mattson by airing audio tape of the two follow-up interviews on Oct. 25, 2006, and Oct. 27, 2006.
Details like snow thawing around the boards of the path to the house that afternoon and what the piece of wood he hit Clemons with looked like -- a 14-inch-long piece of half-green popple -- were clear.
But when asked why he did it, or who left the house first that morning -- Mattson or his brother John -- the answers were a consistent "I don't know."
Retired Superior Police Officer Richard Berchild testified Wednesday that during his 1993 interview with Mattson following the murder, the Superior man had a complete memory loss about which brother got to the truck first before they drove off.
"I just felt we were getting to the crux of the matter," Berchild told the court. "He could basically describe his day in detail." Except for that.
The words of the murder victim, presented to the jury Wednesday, showed Mattson's capacity for violence. From a preliminary hearing transcript, her testimony pieced together an attack on Clemons barely three months before her death. Mattson was drunk at the time. He kicked her, slapped her, stood on her neck with his booted foot and slammed her head against the floor, according to the transcript. He lit some papers on fire on her chest and forced a piece of dry toast down her throat, telling her "This is what I get when I'm in jail when you send me there ...." He pled guilty to aggravated battery for the assault.
O'Neill objected to the admission of the transcript. He told Judge George Glonek that it just piles on evidence of his client being a "bad man" and is prejudicial.
"I don't know how I'm supposed to cross examine this witness," he told Glonek.
The judge in December ruled the evidence relevant due to the nearness of time, place and circumstance to the 1993 murder.
Other evidence presented to the 14-member jury included the audio-taped confession and tapes of two other police interviews with Mattson. Crime lab experts testified about blood and DNA evidence found on the scene, including drops of Clemons' blood that were found on a piece of firewood in the entryway of the home.
After the prosecution rested today, O'Neill asked Glonek to dismiss the case due to lack of evidence. When the judge denied the motion, O'Neill came back with a request to amend the charge to reckless homicide. Mattson didn't go back in the house with an intent to kill Clemons, he said. Maybe he just intended to hurt her, as he had in the previous assaults. The motion was also denied.
O'Neill then called up his first witness, Gwen Brand. A nurse for the Douglas County Jail, she testified that Mattson had been on numerous medications in the past and was currently prescribed a mood stabilizer and anti-depressant.
The final person to testify was Mattson himself.
Jurors were sent home early Thursday in preparation for final arguments Friday before the fate of the 15-year-old case rests in the hands 12 members of the jury.