Members of murder victim Matthew Chew's family left a New London courtroom looking more devastated than ever Thursday after a lengthy sentencing hearing for 19-year-old Matias Perry.
It was the fourth sentencing this week in the case of the 25-year-old pizza cook and artist who had been targeted at random by six local teenagers and fatally stabbed on Oct. 29, 2010.
Perry had stopped Chew as he walked home from work on Huntington Street to ask him for a lighter, according to testimony. When Chew reached into his pocket, Perry hit him in the face, beginning the attack that led to Chew's stabbing death at the hands of Idris Elahi.
"It was him who went up to and who identified Mr. Chew, and it was him who ultimately struck the first blow that led to Mr. Chew's death," said prosecutor Stephen M. Carney.
Perry, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for first-degree manslaughter, told his attorney he was unable to speak, but scribbled out an apology that he asked be read after he left the courtroom. Judge Susan B. Handy said Perry would have to remain in court as it was read.
"I'm sorry for not being able to handle this sentencing properly," the apology said, in part. "I hope I don't come across as disrespectful."
Perry's mother also was unable to speak after watching a video montage of Chew's life and listening to his family members deliver victim impact statements. She whispered to defense attorney Peter E. Scillieri, "I just keep thinking that could be my son." Scillieri repeated her remark to the assembly.
Scillieri addressed the court for more than 40 minutes, speaking of the inability of adolescents, especially in a group, to make good decisions and saying that at least five of the six defendants had not set out with the intention to kill Chew that night.
According to earlier testimony, the teens had gathered at the home of Elahi, which Scillieri referred to as the "clubhouse" for the group they called the Goon Squad. They were playing video games and watching television when they decided to go out and jump somebody. When Rahshad Perry dared Elahi to stab somebody, the two sealed the dare by giving each other "dap," or banging knuckles.
Scillieri said that his client and two others, Brian Rabell and Tyree Bundy, tried to "break up the dap," because they didn't want the incident to escalate to that level.
Elahi pleaded guilty to murder and is serving a 35-year prison sentence. The others pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter and are being sentenced this week to eight-year or 15-year prison terms, depending on whether they cooperated with the prosecution.
Matias Perry and Rahshad Perry, who are unrelated, did not cooperate by testifying at a probable cause hearing in Elahi's case. Scillieri said his client didn't cooperate because "his lawyer" — Scillieri — would not allow him to cooperate. Scillieri said he thought the Elahi case would go to trial and that his client would have been available to testify at the trial.
Scillieri did not talk about his client's education, work history or family life, but mentioned only that Perry was 17 when the crime occurred. In a highly unusual move, the defense attorney had met with Chew's parents before the sentencing to explain his argument.
Scillieri objected to the state's contention that the teens had gone "hunting" for a victim.
"They did a terrible thing," he said. "They acted jointly. They have joint liability under our law. They didn't go hunting."
The weeklong sentencing marathon has been difficult for Chew's parents, Marilyn and Rick Chew; for his siblings, Mike Chew and Mindy Fowler; and for his girlfriend, Lindsay Krodel.
Also included in the Chew fold of suffering is Mike Chew's wife, Alex Monter, who also lost a sibling, Paige Bennett, to homicide. The case of Bennett's accused murderer, Chihan Eric Chyung, is being heard in the same courtroom as the Chew case.
On Thursday, the family members left the courtroom, most of them in tears, accompanied by Victim Advocate Beth Ann Hess. When Rick Chew attempted to comfort his weeping daughter by saying, "It going to be all right," Fowler's response was, "No, it's never going to be all right."
In her victim impact statement, Fowler had remarked that, "If hunting and killing human beings is Mr. Perry's cure for boredom, I hate to think what he will do when faced by stronger emotions," such as anger and grief.
The last of the five sentencings is scheduled for today, when Marquis Singleton, 19, is to be sentenced to eight years in prison. At each of the hearings, Judge Handy has been thanking the Chew family for their presentation.
"It's very important that we get to know who Matthew was," Handy said. "It helps us understand the breadth of the loss to you and the community."
Handy has also been addressing the defendants and their families.
"I know your family is suffering a loss as well," she told Perry. "They've suffered the loss of their hopes and dreams for you."