Guilty pleas from two people in a case related to the April shooting death of Chattanooga police Sgt. Tim Chapin mark the first decisive steps in an extensive federal case against the accused killer's family.
Rachel Mathews, 21, and James Poteete, 26, each pleaded guilty to conspiring to obstruct justice and being an accessory after the fact to a violent crime Wednesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Lee.
Their pleas will have no direct bearing on the state case against Jesse Mathews, federal prosecutors said. But they are critical steps in exacting justice for a series of crimes leading up to Chapin's slaying, federal prosecutors said.
"It was important to make sure the people who were partially responsible for the events that took place here were held accountable for their conduct in assisting Jesse Mathews," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Neff, who is prosecuting the case with Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Poole.
Jesse and Rachel's parents, Ray and Kathleen Mathews, also face hefty federal charges related to the case.
Rachel Mathews and Poteete -- Rachel's boyfriend at the time -- helped Mathews flee a state community corrections program in Colorado and move to Chattanooga, according to court records. They also helped him hide and acquire more firearms shortly before Chapin's slaying, records show.
In their first meeting since their April arrests, Rachel Mathews and Poteet stood at opposite ends of the defense table Wednesday, their attorneys between them.
The pair took turns pleading guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice, accessory after the fact to violent robbery and accessory after the fact to using and carrying a firearm in relation to a violent crime.
Rachel Mathews' three "guilty" pleas were barely audible.
"She's very remorseful," her attorney, Aubrey Harper, said after the hearing. "She knows remorse doesn't make up for the loss of a good man, but she understands -- and is very sorry -- her conduct that led to the encounter between her brother and Sgt. Chapin."
Each of the couple's charges relates to assisting Jesse Mathews while knowing he was a fugitive suspected of several robberies in Colorado.
The two were not charged with assisting Jesse Mathews in connection with the Chattanooga robbery or Chapin's slaying.
In a plea deal, seven remaining charges against each will be dropped at sentencing before U.S. District Court Judge Harry S. "Sandy" Mattice, scheduled for Nov. 14.
The three charges carry 10-, 15- and 20-year maximum prison sentences, along with the potential for heavy fines and long spans of supervised release. But the plea deal allows for a reduction in sentences if the pair accept responsibility for their offense and fully cooperate with officials.
Poteete's mother and the Chapin family were present, sharing the same row in the small magistrate's room that was otherwise crowded with media.
Afterward, Rachel Mathews was taken back into custody. Poteete, who is on bond, left the courthouse with his mother to return to his home in Antioch, Tenn. The family and his attorney, Gene Shiles, declined comment.
Chattanooga Police Assistant Chief Tim Carroll, also at the hearing, said the court proceedings were helping him and other officers come to terms with Chapin's loss.
There are many officers who are still really struggling with Tim's death, especially the ones that were with him on that day," Carroll said. "None of this brings him back, but we want to see justice done."