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New London - The local man charged with killing two neighbors and then setting their multi-family home on fire Friday served three years in prison for shooting a man in 2005 after a group of people would not let him rap with them.
Joel Matthews, 29, of 36 Blinman St. was charged Saturday with two counts of murder and one count of second-degree arson and was held on a $5 million bond, according to a release issued late Saturday night by Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio. He is scheduled to appear in New London Superior Court today. Meanwhile, the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is slated to conduct autopsies today on the two victims.
City police said they found Matthews and his mother, Julie Vince, at the Red Roof Inn on Saturday.
Matthews, who lives on the second floor, told police he was arguing with first-floor residents Noel Starback, 57, and Sherry Roush, 50, when he struck them both with a blunt object, according to the release. Police said Matthews told them he set the house on fire in an attempt to conceal the crime.
In October 2005, Matthews shot a man in front of Sam's Food Store on Ocean Avenue. He was sentenced to 10 years in jail for first-degree assault and discharge of a firearm, but his sentence was suspended after he served three years. He was placed on probation for another three years.
In that incident, police said Matthews tried to join a group of people who were rapping in front of the convenience store, but the group rebuffed him. He became angry, left and returned with a gun which he then used to shoot the man in the abdomen. The man recovered.
When Matthews appeared before former New London Superior Court Judge Susan B. Handy for his sentencing, he told her "You'll never see me again."
"I made the biggest mistake of my life," Matthews said during the sentencing.
In 2004, Matthews was charged in New London with possession of a half ounce to less than 4 ounces of a controlled substance and fined $85.
Five residents including Matthews, Vince, Starback, Roush and a man who identified himself Friday night only as Jerry lived in the multi-family home.
On Sunday, residents continued to drive and walk past the Blinman Street home to see what remained of the charred and boarded-up structure.
Bouquets of flowers, teddy bears and four lit candles were placed on the stoop. One card read "From a Citizen of New London."
Starback's light brown cat, Jerry, roamed the street Sunday afternoon, meowing. The cat eventually lay down in front of the charred entrance to the home.
Richard Brooks, a friend of Starback's, said he stopped by the house to see it for himself. He said he was out of town when the fire occurred and that he was having a hard time containing his anger after the death of his friend.
"They didn't even have a chance to escape the fire," Brooks said. "They were probably alive before the smoke and the flames got to them."
He said Starback was the kind of person who would "give the shirt off his back" for someone and that "he did anything to make a buck."
"He and Sherry walked everywhere, she was always following behind him," Brooks said. "They did drink a lot, but they never hurt anybody."
Brooks said that Starback was known around town as a handyman.
His woodworking and carpentry skills are shown off at Y-Knot Cafe and the Bank Street Café, and there were a number of people he helped along the way, Brooks said.
A neighbor who lives across the street declined to give his name but said he was familiar with Matthews' mother, Julie.
He said he has known Julie for at least 30 years but until recently had not seen Matthews since he was an infant. Julie lived on the second floor with Matthews, he said.
The neighbor said he and Starback used to work at Electric Boat and said he would visit with Starback and Roush almost every day to "have some beers."
"They've been together for a long time. He just bought a table the day before (his death) and he asked me to help him put it together," the man said, craning his neck into the backyard to see if the table was still there.
He said he never heard Starback mention any problems with Matthews.
"I've seen Joel about four or five times since he's been here, which has been about a month," the man said. "He keeps to himself mostly. He just got out of jail before he moved here."
Five members of the New London Fire Department walked from the station to the house Sunday afternoon.
Four of them were not on duty Friday night when the fire occurred, and one of them wanted to see the house.
"Horrific," one said as he moved his way around the house, glass from the broken out windows cracking underneath his feet.
"It's just a horrible, horrible thing. No matter how many fires you deal with, something like this is just awful."