A Whodunnit in Washington County, New York: Who Murdered Matt’s Mom?
This week, we go up to White Creek in Washington County, which borders on New York’s North Country region and the border of Vermont. It is a 3-hour 45-minute drive north from Manhattan, and a 2-hour 45-minute drive west to Firefighter Park in Syracuse.
Grandma Moses, the famous artist, was born in Washington County. Norman Rockwell and Grandma Moses were friends who lived over the Vermont-New York state border from each other. Her 100th birthday was proclaimed "Grandma Moses Day" by New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. She began painting seriously at the age of 78 and is often cited as an example of someone who successfully began a career in the arts at an advanced age.
In Grandma’s autobiography she wrote, “Life is what we make it, always has been, always will be.”
This case is about a life poorly made.
Matt Slocum, 24 years old, was angry that he was being asked to move out of his mother’s home, where he, his girlfriend and their young child had been staying.
His mother’s home was burned to the ground with people still inside. An eyewitness called the police and said that she saw Matt start the fire that killed his step-father, 41, Joshua, Matt’s step-brother, 24, and Lisa C. Harrington, 44, Matt's mother. It was July.
Autopsies showed that the victims died from gunshot wounds to the head, while they were lying down, before the fire began. Matt’s mother's blood was found on Matt's shorts and the girlfriend's shirt.
Matt said his girlfriend, Loretta, the mother of their baby, Ray, did it.
Q: Who set fire to your mother’s home that July?
A: I did.
Q: Did you know there were people still inside when you did that?
A: Yes. But they were already dead -- my brother, his father, and, my mom. [Matt’s eyes swell up with tears].
Q: How do you know they were already dead?
A: I was asleep in my bedroom and I woke up to the sound of a gunshot. [voice cracking] I ran into mom’s bedroom and saw that mom and my step-dad had been shot in the face. I heard voices in the living room and I watched Loretta shoot my brother.
Q: What happened next?
A: Loretta aimed a gun at him and she said, "Get back in the room!" I just looked at her, you know? I was stunned because she just massacred my family. And then she just came apart and started crying. She dropped the shotgun and then she hugged me.
Q: And what did you say?
A: I was holding her and I asked, "What did you just do?" And then she said, "What do you mean?” And I told her, you know, Don't worry about it.
Q: “Don’t worry about it?” Okay, what happened after you said, Don’t worry about it?
A: She let go of me and then she handed me a gas can. I poured the gas and set the fire.
Q: Why did you do that?
A: Honestly, I did not want anyone to see my mother shot in the head.
Q: Matt, I am showing you video footage of you at a pawnshop the day after the fire. What were you doing there?
A: We were selling coins from my mom’s house.
Q: And you are smiling in the video, right?
A: Yeah, Loretta told me to smile. So I did.
Q: Did you shoot those people in the house before Matt started the fire?
A: No. I never shot a gun. On the night of the fire, I woke up and saw Matt standing over his brother with a long gun in his hand. I then saw a flash and heard a loud noise. Then Matt told me to pack our things. He said he was going to turn off all the lights to make people think that they everyone was sleeping, and because he didn't want the cops to come.
Q: What happened after that?
A: I saw Matt taking guns from a room in the house and loading them into the car. He went into his mother's room and grabbed some items, including her purse, which was covered in blood. I saw the mother and stepfather covered in a blanket. Matt handed me the purse and told me to remove any money and keys. Then I saw Matt grab a gas can, and he went inside and dumped gas all over, made a trail out to the porch and lit it. But dumbbell had taken the keys to the wrong car so he grabbed some guns and other items from the first car, loaded them into a second car and then we just drove off with baby Ray.
Q: Where did you go?
A: To my mother's house. Matt needed a shirt because he was shirtless, and asked my mom where he could get money for old coins and guns. Matt left and he threw the guns over a fence beside the road and went to pawn shops to sell coins and jewelry that belonged to his mother.
Q: Did Matt say anything to you?
A: Yeah. He said that he was sorry for ruining our lives.
TESTIMONY OF LORETTA’S MOM:
Q: What do you observe when Matt arrived at your home?
A: Well, he has no shirt on, which was unusual for him, and asked about pawning items, and smelled like a campfire.
TESTIMONY OF MATT’S COUSIN:
Q: On the day before the incident, did you hear Matt say anything to his mother?
A: Yeah. After she refused to give Matt money when he asked her, Matt told his mother, "I'll burn your house down."
TESTIMONY OF PRISON INMATE HOUSED WITH MATT:
Q: Did Matt ever tell you that he killed the victims before he lit the fire?
A: Oh, yeah. At first he told me that the girlfriend did it, but, over time after we got to be friends, Matt admitted that he killed the victims.
CROSS-EXAMINATION OF THE INMATE:
Q: Sir, you made a deal in exchange for your giving testimony about Matt, isn’t that correct?
A: Absolutely. I got a deal. Something for something…we ain’t communists yet.
TESTIMONY OF CORRECTIONS OFFICER:
Q: Did you ever hear Matt talk about the killings?
A: Yes, sir. I heard him shout out from his dorm, "I'm here for murder. Don't be mixing me in with these others," and, another time, Matt told me "you don't know who . . . I am; I'm a murderer."
Q: Did Matt send any correspondence to anyone mentioning the killings?
A: Yes: 10 bizarre letters that he wrote from jail to his girlfriend, Loretta, where he apologized for everything, and stated that he knew who to blame and that he wished the police had shot him.
CROSS-EXAMINATION OF THE OFFICER:
Q: You don’t like Matt, do you officer?
A: I don’t like anyone, sir.
SUMMATION BY MATT’S LAWYER:
Members of the Jury, Matt testified candidly that he set his mother’s house on fire. That is a really tough thing to admit to: that he burned the body of his mother to protect the mother of his child. Truly, a biblical choice to have to make. Then to have the person that you tried to protect come to court and accuse him of murdering his mother and other members of his family? Does Loretta have any shame? All we have is Loretta’s testimony and the testimony of a corrections officer that did not like Matt and from a jailhouse informant who got a deal. I ask you to find my client NOT GUILTY! Thank you.
We the Jury, find the defendant, Matt Slocum…..GUILTY of the crimes of murder in the second degree (three counts), arson in the third degree, tampering with physical evidence, petit larceny and criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree.
Matt was sentenced, as a second felony offender, to prison terms of 25 years to life for each of the three murder convictions, to run consecutively (75 years); 7½ to 15 years for the arson conviction and 2 to 4 years for the tampering with physical evidence conviction, to run concurrently with each other but consecutively to the murder convictions; and 3½ to 7 years for the criminal possession of a weapon conviction, to run concurrently with the murder convictions. The court also imposed a $1,000 fine for the petit larceny conviction.
Your honors, the verdicts are against the weight of the credible evidence.
RULING OF THE APPEALS COURT:
Matt's contention that Loretta was the one who committed the crimes presented a credibility issue for the jury to resolve and it was reasonably resolved against Matt. The Verdict and the Sentence imposed are AFFIRMED.
Matt is truly the architect of a life poorly made and will spend the rest that life behind bars.
See you next week.
Here is the case: http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2019/2019_08732.htm