David Matusiewicz and his sister received life sentences Thursday at the federal court house in Wilmington.
In July, David Matusiewicz, his mother, Lenore Matusiewicz, and his sister, Amy Gonzalez, were found guilty of interstate stalking and cyberstalking David Matusiewicz’s ex-wife, Christine Belford, ultimately leading to her death.
David Matusiewicz’s father, Thomas Matusiewicz, shot and killed Belford and her friend, Laura Mulford, in the lobby of the New Castle County Courthouse in February 2013 before killing himself. The incident followed a heated custody battle between the Matusiewicz family and Belford.
After Judge Gerald McHugh announced the three life sentences Thursday, acting U.S. Attorney David Weiss said the crime shattered the lives of the victim’s families and left permanent scars on the community.
He said the family had a single-minded objective: to get Belford and David Matusiewicz’s three girls for themselves at all costs.
“Severe punishment was absolutely warranted and this was the only way the court could protect the children and anyone else in the community that happened to draw the ire of the Matusiewicz defendants,” Weiss said.
Matusiewicz and Belford went through divorce and child custody proceedings in 2007. After losing his custody request, Matusiewicz and his mother Lenore kidnapped the three children and fled to South America. The two were caught in 2009, sentenced to 48 months in prison and David Matusiewicz eventually lost paternal rights.
After the kidnapping arrest, prosecutors say the family began stalking and harassing Belford to get the children back, which included posting false allegations of sexual abuse on social media. But when Belford refused to give into fear, that’s when prosecutors say the killing was planned.
In 2012 Matusiewicz requested a hearing to reduce his child support payments, and was granted permission to drive from his home in Texas, where the rest of his family lived, to attend the hearing in Delaware.
His father also drove to Delaware in a separate car loaded with weapons. Prosecutors say Matusiewicz entered the court house waiting for his father to attack Belford. They say the day following killing Gonzalez attempted to seek custody of the children.
“Everybody had their roles,” said prosecutor Jamie McCall. “David Matusiewicz was the leader, Amy was the person who was going to come in at the tail end, and seek custody of the children, Lenore, in many instances, was the person who was fueling the motivation and David—it was all about David.”
About 45 friends and family of the victims attended Thursday’s hearing and five of them gave statements to the judge.
Mulford’s husband John spoke of his wife as a loving and caring individual. He said a life sentence would be justified for the pain the incident has caused the two families.
“I don’t want Christine’s girls to live in more fear than they have to. I don’t want myself and my family to live in fear,” he said.
Belford’s daughter from a previous relationship also spoke during the court saying, “Anyone who goes against the Matusiewicz’s face the consequences…I believe they will hurt anyone in their way.”
Judge Peggy Ableman, a family court judge involved in the divorce case, said the three girls will never receive the long term “security or peace of mind” they need unless a life sentence is given.
“I have seen firsthand the real-life nightmare they have faced,” she said. “The three children remain terrified they will be once again kidnapped and captured.”
Defense attorney Ed Bostic asked the judge for the opportunity for rehabilitation for his client saying, “There’s always opportunity for hope in respect to any defendant.” Matusiewicz declined to make a statement in court, but chose to submit a written statement.
Judge McHugh saidMatusiewicz used the courthouse as bait to lure Belford to the location, and that Matusiewicz repeatedly abused and manipulated the justice system.
“I see crimes of weakness and crimes of malice. I have to conclude this is a crime of malice,” he said before giving the life sentence, adding; “These children did not just lose their mother, they’ve lost so much more…It deprived them of their childhood innocence.”
Gonzalez’s attorney Jeremy Ibrahim said a life sentence would be too harsh for his client, considering her clean record and her chance for rehabilitation.
But prosecutor Shawn Weede said Gonzalez was a key player in the crime, calling her a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,”
“No one has a choice of who their family is. But we certainly have a choice not to join a conspiracy like this,” Weede said in court.
Gonzalez spoke in front of the courtroom, and cried at the podium. She asked McHugh for mercy, and the opportunity to be home with her 10-year-old daughter and husband.
“I stand here deeply sorry for the tragic events,” Gonzalez said. “I’m so sorry for the victims and everyone affected by this tragedy. Neither of these women deserved to die.”
McHugh commended her for speaking in front of the court, rather than giving a written statement. Still, the judge said he found the evidence troubling, and gave her a life sentence with a “reluctant heart, but a conscious mind.”
Lenore Matusiewicz, hospitalized and facing terminal illness, received her life sentence last week.
Defense attorneys declined to comment, but Bostic said they will appeal.