SANTA ANA — A former Santa Ana tow-truck driver was sentenced Friday to life in prison without possibility of parole for bludgeoning a Buena Park nurse in exchange for a $15,000 bounty offered by her ex-husband.
Neill F. Matzen, 39, was convicted of first-degree murder in the November, 1990, slaying of Donna Jean Connaty, 34. Matzen continued to proclaim his innocence Friday in a brief statement to the court.
"I am sorry there has been a death in this case, but it wasn't me. I didn't kill her," Matzen said.
Orange County Superior Court Judge David O. Carter sentenced Matzen to the maximum penalty.
The victim's relatives made emotional statements and demanded the harshest sentence.
"The pain will never go away," said Kathleen Jones, Connaty's mother, as she covered her face with her hands and sobbed loudly. "We will never see her smile again or feel her touch."
Relatives offered fond memories of Connaty, telling of the Christmas Eve when she used her savings to buy gifts for a friend's children after presents had been stolen from the woman's car.
The night before her slaying, Jones said, her daughter was beaming with joy after presenting a homemade pie to an elderly woman she had befriended.
Carter noted the brutality of the crime. Connaty, the mother of three children, was ambushed after entering her home; her stethoscope was still around her neck when her body was found, he said.
During the trial, jurors heard a tawdry tale of a trailer-park tryst and of a murder-for-hire and betrayal. Carter said the case read almost like a "fictional novel" except that "I don't think you could dream up the facts in this case. It is really a bizarre and twisted tale."
Prosecutors argued that Matzen killed Connaty with a crowbar at the behest of Richard Connaty, her ex-husband. Nine days later, Matzen shot and killed Richard Connaty after he broke into Matzen's Santa Ana trailer home brandishing a handgun. Prosecutors ruled that Matzen fired in self-defense.
Further complicating the case was evidence that Matzen's wife, Cindy, had been having a secret affair with Richard Connaty. Defense attorneys claimed that Cindy Matzen committed the slaying, then extracted a false confession from Neill Matzen.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Patrick H. Donahue said Cindy Matzen remains under investigation in Donna Jean Connaty's slaying.