Todd Eugene Dalton
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Corey Matthews

The second of four men accused of beating a Cowan, Tenn., man to death with a hammer in March 2013 has been convicted on murder charges after entering a surprise guilty plea this week.

Todd E. Dalton, 29, pleaded guilty Wednesday to facilitating first-degree murder on the day his trial was set to start in Franklin County Circuit Court. Dalton and three other men were accused in the slaying of Corey N. Matthews, whose body was found on March 24, 2013, in a cornfield on Slag Town Road just outside of Cowan.

Dalton was sentenced to 25 years in prison in the plea.

Co-defendant David G. Jenkins was found guilty last year and was sentenced in June to life in prison without parole. Co-defendants John Corey Lanier, 29, and Coty Keith Holmes, 28, each are charged with first-degree murder and felony murder in Matthews' death. Their court dates are pending.

The four men and the victim had ties to the white supremacy group known as the Aryan Nation or Aryan Brotherhood.

Twelfth Judicial District Assistant District Attorney Steve Blount said Friday that Dalton made the court aware he was interested in talking about a plea Tuesday, which allowed court staff to delay the appearance of jurors and witnesses.

Blount talked about the killing during Wednesday's plea hearing.

Dalton was "second in command" of the Aryan Nation in the Franklin County area. Matthews, an Aryan Nation member, was to be "kicked out," according to Blount. A process to accomplish "kicking out" a member is to cover the outgoing member's Aryan Nation tattoo with more ink to obliterate it.

But Matthews didn't show for the procedure, upsetting Dalton, who was to perform the work. Dalton contacted Lanier and Holmes, who were then Aryan Nation "prospects," something like fraternity pledges. Jenkins, a member of the white supremacy prison organization known as the Aryan Brotherhood, lived in nearby Coffee County and also was summoned by Dalton.

"On the day of the event, they got with [Matthews] and they ended up at the victim's house and went into his house. The victim's wife was there, the victim's daughter was there," Blount said.

Matthews gathered some Aryan Nation materials from his house, got into Dalton's vehicle with the four other men and left. It was the last time his family would see him alive.

When he didn't come home, Matthews' wife started trying to reach her husband's cellphone and called Dalton. Dalton contended he had dropped Matthews off at a convenience store in Cowan, according to Blount's account from the hearing Wednesday.

But DNA evidence linked Dalton's vehicle to Matthews. A pathologist testified that Matthews had been struck 14 times with the hammer, 12 of those being "death blows," according to Blount. Jenkins was identified during the investigation, Wednesday's plea hearing and his own trial as the man with the hammer.

A Cowan Police Department officer found Matthews' badly beaten body the next day lying face up in clothes wet from a recent storm, launching the investigation that led to the four arrests.

Blount said a hearing later this month could bring an end to the case. Lanier and Holmes are expected to enter guilty pleas on March 24.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfree or or or 423-757-6569.