Published May 24. 2012 12:00PM Updated May 25. 2012 1:06AM
A New London man accused of killing two neighbors on April 14 and torching their Blinman Street house to cover up the crimes pleaded not guilty Thursday in New London Superior Court to murder charges.
Joel Matthews, 29, is charged with two counts of murder, capital felony and second-degree arson.
Matthews waived his right to a probable cause hearing. Judge Patrick J. Clifford asked Matthews if he understood that since he gave up his rights to a hearing, the court would no longer have to find that the state had met its burden of proof.
Matthews replied simply, "Yes."
Clifford also told Matthews that if he is convicted of capital felony, he could be sentenced to death or to life in prison without the possibility of release. Matthews was charged with a capital case before Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed a law passed by the legislature repealing the death penalty.
Anyone who committed a crime before the repeal took effect is still eligible for capital punishment, according to Michael Lawlor, the state Office of Policy and Management's undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning.
Supervisory Assistant State's Attorney Lawrence J. Tytla said it was too soon to say what penalty the state would pursue.
Matthews is accused of fatally beating Noel Starback, 57, and Sherry Roush, 50, who lived in the first-floor apartment at 36 Blinman St. The state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled that the couple died of blunt trauma and that the manner of their deaths was homicide.
Starback and Roush were often seen walking downtown. Starback was a handyman whose carpentry can be seen at Y-Knot Café and Bank Street Café. In 2007, he repainted the 30 steel carousel horses at Ocean Beach Park.
Matthews lived on the second floor of the apartment house.
On Thursday, Tytla also asked the court to continue to keep the prosecutor's report and search warrants in the case sealed due to the investigation. Tytla said he could not state his reasons for making the request without "letting the cat out of the bag."
Clifford granted the request. Matthews' case was continued to July 5.