Norman (Little Matt) Matthews, reportedly one of the top four leaders of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang, had already been found guilty of three separate prison killings when he was charged in 1985 with attempting to murder another convict by burning him alive in his cell.
Matthews, already serving two consecutive life sentences plus another 20 years for the earlier killings, sat calmly in Los Angeles federal court Friday as a jury found him guilty of attempted murder. U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie immediately sentenced him to an additional 25 years.
The jury, unaware of the earlier murders, took less than two hours after a four-day trial to decide that Matthews was guilty of throwing gasoline from a tobacco can into the cell of convict Clayton Cook at Lompoc federal prison on May 2, 1985, a few days after an alleged argument over a shipment of methamphetamine that had been smuggled into the prison.
According to Cook, Matthews splashed the gasoline into his cell as he was preparing to go to sleep, then ignited the fuel with matches and continued to squirt gasoline into the cell from a plastic squeeze bottle.
"He set me on fire a couple more times," testified Cook, who was burned over 37% of his body. "I kept trying to put myself out. Then he set me on fire again."
While there was no testimony on how Matthews could have smuggled gasoline into his cellblock, officials said they believed he obtained it from gasoline supplies used to power lawn mowers used by Lompoc prisoners in 1985. They said the prison has switched to hand lawn mowers since the assault.
Matthews, 44, told Rafeedie on Friday that he wanted an immediate sentence so he could be returned quickly to federal prison in Marion, Ill., the toughest federal prison in the nation. Federal officials said his three prison killings took place at Marion before he was transferred to Lompoc in 1983 because of overcrowding and an "improved behavior record" during his last two years at Marion.
Federal prosecutors William F. Fahey and Carolyn Kubota said the Matthews trial was one of about two prison violence cases prosecuted annually in Los Angeles in an effort to deter other federal inmates serving lengthy sentences from feeling that they can assault fellow convicts at will.
"For a guy like Matthews, the extra time probably doesn't matter as much as the fact that he'll be going back to Marion instead of Lompoc, where there is more freedom of movement," Fahey said. "But for other prisoners who are serving 25- or 30-year sentences, we hope there is a deterrent in knowing that their sentences could be almost doubled by this kind of an assault."
Cook testified that his troubles with Matthews started shortly after Cook's transfer to Lompoc in 1985, when Cook, who was serving 100 years in prison on armed robbery and assault charges, took a mattress from an empty cell that was later claimed by another prisoner identified by Cook as Matthew's homosexual lover. Cook said he gave the mattress away but failed to reach a truce with Matthews.
Federal Public Defenders Brian Robbins and Gail Ivans argued in defense of Matthews that Cook was lying on the witness stand and suggested that Cook could have secretly been storing the gasoline in his cell and accidentally set fire to himself.
After agreeing to sentence Matthews on the spot for the attempted murder and a related weapons charge, Rafeedie said he had little choice other than to impose the maximum possible sentence.
Matthews, sporting a Fu Manchu mustache, accepted the sentence without emotion. He told Rafeedie at one point that he would not be eligible for parole from his first life prison sentence until the year 2005, when he will then begin to serve his next life sentence.
When his lawyers told him there might be delays in filing an appeal of his most recent conviction, Matthews smiled at them before he was led away in chains by U.S. marshals.
"No rush. I've got plenty of time," he said.