published Sunday, February 12th, 2012

Mother of man charged with killing Chattanooga police sergeant rants in jailhouse letters

Kathleen Mathews, mother of Jesse Mathews who was charged in the death of Chattanooga police Sgt. Tim Chapin last year.
Kathleen Mathews, mother of Jesse Mathews who was charged in the death of Chattanooga police Sgt. Tim Chapin last year.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The mother of a man charged with killing a Chattanooga police sergeant last year rants in jailhouse letters to her son that Tennesseans are a “stupid hillbilly, Jack Daniel selling ... backward, Bible belt, inbred ... bunch of haters” and shows scant remorse for her own crimes in the case.

Kathleen Mathews awaits sentencing in federal court Monday along with her husband, daughter and daughter’s boyfriend. All have pleaded guilty to crimes before and after police say 26-year-old Jesse Mathews shot and killed Sgt. Tim Chapin during a botched robbery.

“You are a good man Jesse,” Kathleen Mathews wrote. “I sure as hell understand where your hatred is coming from. You do one little thing that pisses people off and they want to hold it against you forever!”

U.S. District Judge Harry S. “Sandy” Mattice will decide how much prison time Kathleen, Ray and Rachel Mathews will serve for helping Jesse flee Colorado while on parole and then arm himself before the April 2, 2011, robbery and shootout at the U.S. Money Shops on Brainerd Road.

Lawyers for the family have argued for the lower end of prison sentencing ranges on their charges. Each was charged with 11 counts, including tampering with a witness, victim or informant; accessory after the fact; withholding information on a crime; and selling firearms to addicts, felons or fugitives.

All four pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact and withholding information. Ray and Kathleen also pleaded to transporting a firearm unlawfully.

A presentencing report recommended Kathleen serve 25 years, five years more than the maximum time on one of her four counts.

Ray, Rachel and her boyfriend, James Poteete, face a maximum of 20 years.

Jesse, charged with first-degree murder, faces the death penalty in state court. His trial date is Jan. 22, 2013. As of last week, he was being held in the Hamilton County Jail.

‘loud mouthed broad’

The five letters, totaling 67 pages, that Kathleen sent Jesse from jail were entered into the court record last week as part of federal prosecutors’ attempts to argue for increased sentencing.

In the letters, she rails against Chapin’s family, Chattanooga and the legal system.

A January letter tells Jesse that his father, Ray, has been told by God that Jesse will not receive the death penalty and a “miracle” will help the rest of the family during their Feb. 13 sentencing hearing.

Kathleen offers further encouragement.

“OK, so you rest easy cause I too believe that God didn’t save you just so this stupid hillbilly, Jack Daniel selling yet considered a blue state, backward, Bible belt, inbred, church on every corner yet no forgiving Christian in sight rush to judgment bunch of haters Tennessee [expletive deleted] could give you the death penalty,” she wrote.

Prosecutors Steve Neff and Chris Poole would not comment on the case ahead of the sentencing.

Federal Public Defender Anthony Martinez, reached by phone Friday, said neither he nor his client, Kathleen Mathews, would comment.

Kathleen has been in trouble before for her jailhouse letters. When she and her previous husband, Charles Thornton, were jailed in Florida in the slaying of Kathleen’s former boss in 1980, she wrote Thornton letters saying how proud and aroused the act made her.

“I don’t think it was bad, I think it was sexy and terrific and you had a good time,” she wrote. “It is nice to be able to have what you want when you want it. The only bad thing is the price you have to pay when you get caught.”

Florida prosecutors in that case brought out her letters during sentencing. She wrote the judge an apology, saying she wrote the letter to encourage her then-husband, who was facing the death penalty. Thornton died in 1983 of natural causes while on death row.

Kathleen served eight years of a 15-year manslaughter sentence.

The federal court record shows that Kathleen sent a letter under seal to Mattice through her attorney on Feb. 6, the same day prosecutors filed her letters to Jesse for the sentencing hearing.

Ray Mathews’ attorney, Lee Ortwein, has filed education certificates, church attendance logs and a personal statement by Ray offering an apology for Chapin’s death.

Kathleen discusses her husband’s Christian faith renewal in an October letter to Jesse.

“I know dad is taking this Bible stuff real serious and that may be great as long as we are both on the same page but I’m not that kind of person,” she wrote. “... But I just can’t deal with being meek, weak and mild mannered. I’m a hellion, a rebel, a loud mouthed broad [and a] take no prisoners kind of person.”

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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