GREENSBORO — An 18-year-old admitted in court Tuesday that he killed a 74-year-old man in 2015, and in making that admission ended the possibility that he might spend his life in prison.
D’Angelo Matthews of 3503 Sherbourne Lane in Greensboro pleaded guilty in front of Guilford County Superior Court Judge Stuart Albright to second-degree murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon in the beating death of 74-year-old Larry Eugene Brown.
It was the second day of Matthews’ first-degree murder trial in which he faced life in prison if convicted. The day before, Albright told the defense he strongly advised they reconsider any available plea deals after he had watched part of the video surveillance of the killing.
Howard Neumann, Guilford County chief assistant district attorney, said investigators and medical examiners determined that Matthews and Christopher Shakel Williams, then 15, sprayed Brown with a fire extinguisher causing him to fall to the ground. Neumann said at least one of the two teenagers struck Brown repeatedly in the head with the fire extinguisher.
Albright gave Matthews two consecutive sentences equaling a minimum of 25 years in prison and consolidated a conspiracy to commit robbery charge. He credited Matthews with the time he has spent in the Guilford County jail since Aug. 4, 2015.
Tuesday’s plea agreement came as a surprise to court officials. Neumann had offered plea deals to Matthews before the trial started but he turned them all down.
On Monday afternoon, the trial was delayed when Matthews’ attorney filed a motion to suppress video footage taken from the police interrogation room that included information from Matthews about what happened to Brown on July 29, 2015, the morning he was killed.
Albright spent several hours watching the first half of the surveillance video Monday afternoon before breaking for the evening recess. Once the court reporter stopped recording, Albright looked at defense attorney Joe Floyd Jr. and said that just seeing the first half of the video he would strongly advise Matthews to reconsider any plea offer on the table.
Floyd announced Tuesday morning, shortly after Albright held a moment of silence for the Sept. 11 anniversary, that Matthews did reconsider taking a plea.
During the plea deal, Neumann told Albright that police had found fire extinguishers, latex gloves, trash and surveillance video that eventually connected Williams, Matthews and then-14-year-old Ketrellia Monaja Harris to the killing.
Neumann said police learned from Williams that Harris had sneaked out of her house after midnight and stolen her mother’s minivan. Neumann said she picked up Williams, Matthews and a third male teenager who was not charged and went on a joyride. The fourth teenager was dropped off at his apartment before Brown’s death.
The teenagers decided to steal fire extinguishers to spray out the minivan’s windows as they drove around town, Neumann said.
At some point, Matthews and Williams decided to rob Brown, who was walking to the bus stop on Greenbriar Road, though Williams and Matthews disagree on whose idea it was.
Neumann said Tuesday that the teenagers took from Brown two cell phones, pliers, his wallet and $3. He said it was not part of a gang initiation and neither teen was under the influence at the time.
“It’s been hard for us to put our heads around what this became,” Neumann said. “Mr. Williams and Matthews are certainly not choir boys but they’re not known for any act of violence either.”
Floyd said he too had trouble understanding what led to the crime.
Neumann said that Williams admitted to police, with his parents in the room, to hitting Brown on the head, adding credibility to his story. It took police several hours to get Matthews to tell them what happened, but he never admitted to hitting Brown.
Floyd said that Williams showed no emotion after admitting what he did, but Matthews cried after giving police a written statement.
Neumann told Albright that, while life in prison wouldn’t have been inappropriate for what the teenagers had done, he wanted to show a little compassion.
Both Williams’ and Harris’ cases are still pending. They’re expected to be in court next week. Brown’s eldest daughter, Laura Haithcock, told Albright until all three teenagers are convicted, her family will not receive closure.
“We don’t understand why this happened,” Haithcock said. “My family is very traumatized by this.”