The parents of a man charged with killing a local police sergeant face sentencing on Dec. 19 for helping their fugitive son before the slaying.
Kathleen and Ray Vance Mathews pleaded guilty Wednesday to four counts of their 14-count federal indictment. They admitted they conspired to hide their son, Jesse Mathews, from police and also transferred firearms for him before he was accused of killing Chattanooga police Sgt. Tim Chapin during a botched robbery.
Kathleen, 57, and Ray, 50, each face up to 20 years for conspiracy to obstruct justice charge; 15 years for being accessories after the fact; and 10 years each on another accessory charge and one of transferring weapons to a felon.
Prosecutors will dismiss the remaining charges. Those would not have affected their sentence since the four to which they pleaded guilty are the most severe.
Jesse Mathews, 26, faces the death penalty if convicted on a charge of first-degree murder. He's also charged with three counts of attempted first-degree murder involving shots fired at other police officers and one count of aggravated robbery.
His next court appearance is scheduled for Oct. 11 before Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman.
Rachel Mathews, 21, Jesse's sister, and her boyfriend James Poteete, 26, pleaded guilty Aug. 10 to helping Jesse after he fled a Colorado halfway house while on parole. Poteete and Rachel are scheduled for sentencing before U.S. District Judge Harry "Sandy" Mattice on Nov. 14.
On Wednesday, Chattanooga Assistant Police Chief Tim Carroll, a close Chapin family friend, spoke with reporters outside the federal courthouse shortly after the 35-minute hearing in U.S. Magistrate Susan Lee's courtroom.
"You've got four now that's taken responsibility for their roles in aiding and abetting Jesse," Carroll said. "It's one more step to get to state court and finalize this.
"We know that these people weren't there and didn't pull the trigger, but collectively and constructively they all might as well have had their finger on the trigger the day it happened," he said.
Kathleen, previously confined to a wheelchair for a combination of nerve damage in her feet and diabetes symptoms, walked into Lee's courtroom Wednesday in a blue prison jumpsuit, her hair held back by a white and gray bandanna that hung to the middle of her back.
Ray shuffled into court in an orange prison jumpsuit, his hair longer and his body thinner than when he was first arrested following the April 2 shooting.
Each gave short answers, such as "yes, ma'am" or "I do" to most of Lee's questions as she reviewed the plea agreement and their charges.
After the hearing, Chattanooga police Officer Lorin Johnston, 45, who was wounded by gunfire during the April 2 robbery, and 10 of Chapin's family members or friends huddled in the hallway, exchanging hugs and asking Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Neff about how much prison time the couple could receive in December.
"So [the judge] said the maximum on that count is 20 years. What's the minimum?" asked Lisa Chapin Roberson, Chapin's sister.
"There is no minimum," Neff replied.
"So they could just go free?" Roberson asked.
That was unlikely, Neff explained. He said there are many factors the judge must consider once a probation officer calculates the sentencing guidelines and attorneys argue for increases or decreases based on aggravating or mitigating factors.
In February, Jesse Mathews was living in a Colorado Springs, Colo., halfway house, on parole from a 2003 armed robbery conviction.
Police say he robbed a fast-food restaurant and a Walgreens, then took money, jewelry and guns from a pawnshop.
Authorities say he fled with the help of his girlfriend, Amber Vlasak-Hudson, 30, and met his family in Asheville, N.C. The group then traveled to Chattanooga and family members sold some of his stolen goods, including guns, at local pawn shops and a gun show, authorities said.
Kathleen Mathews sold some of the stolen jewelry at the U.S. Money Shops on Brainerd Road, police said. Jesse Mathews robbed the store at gunpoint on April 2, according to court testimony. Police responded to a silent alarm and Jesse got into a firefight with responding officers.
As Jesse Mathews jogged out the store's side entrance and around the back, Chapin, 51, bumped him with a patrol car and made him drop his gun, according to testimony. Chapin got out of his car and Tasered Mathews, who rose from the ground, pulled a concealed pistol and shot at Chapin, witnesses said.
The two traded gunfire until a round from Mathews' gun struck and killed Chapin, testimony said.
Police subdued Mathews moments later.