Donna Matthews will spend the rest of her life in prison for first-degree murder of a Kenosha man in 2016.
On hearing the sentence Friday, Matthews wept and shouted out as she was led from the court, appearing to say, “You know he’s an animal ... you know he’s a freak”.
Matthews, 52, was convicted by a jury of first-degree homicide after a two-week trial in July. She has maintained that she shot and killed her former boyfriend, Michael Gayan, in Kenosha in self-defense because he had stalked her and threatened to kill her and members of her family.
Prosecutors argued that she carefully planned the killing — traveling from Hawaii to Kenosha and timing the fatal shots to coincide with the Fourth of July fireworks — because she was embarrassed by sexually explicit photos of her that Gayan had posted on Facebook.
At her sentencing Friday, Matthews asked for “mercy” from Judge Jodi Meier. “I am not the lying, manipulative woman I was portrayed as being through the trial,” Matthews said. She apologized to members of Gayan’s family and to her own family.
“I do not want to die in prison,” she said. “I was scared and alone and I believed in my heart that I had extinguished all my options.”
for eventual release
In first-degree homicide cases, there is a mandatory life sentence, but that mandate allows for a release from prison to lifetime extended supervision. The mandatory minimum initial confinement in prison is 20 years, according to defense attorney Patrick Cafferty.
Cafferty argued for that minimum, saying Matthews had never before been arrested, had an excellent work history, past military service and strong family ties. He said, if given the minimum prison time, she would be released at age 72 and “she most certainly would not represent a danger to the public at that time.”
“This was a sick, sick relationship. There were contributions on both sides of it to make it a sick relationship,” Cafferty said. “What she did was a product of that sick relationship.”
The pre-sentence investigation report to the court, routinely conducted by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections for felony cases, also recommended Matthews be allowed eventual release to extended supervision.
Deputy District Attorney Angelina Gabriele argued that Matthews should be imprisoned for the rest of her life, calling Matthews manipulative and smug. Gabriele said Matthews’ claims she was a victim of domestic abuse was an insult to real abuse victims.
“What we see is that she really believed that she would be the hero of this story. She had built up in her mind this Lifetime movie script,” Gebriele said. “She is no hero and in Wisconsin no one gets to decide” to take the life of another person.
Gabriele also contended in her closing argument that Matthews’ statements to the pre-sentence investigation writer that she felt she had been “slut shamed” and humiliated during the trial were a veiled threat to prosecutors, a contention that Cafferty called outrageous.
In announcing her sentence, Meier said the planning and premeditation Matthews put into killing Gayan was clear.
She said Matthews’ statements that she swore at Gayan when she killed him showed her motivation.
“You took multiple moments to call him profane names. To this court, that is not fear. That is pure hatred,” Meier said. “The fact that you can let pure hatred govern your actions makes you a very dangerous individual.”
Derrick Matthews, who aided his sister in the murder by providing a gun and a ride to Gayan’s home, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge in exchange for testifying against his sister at trial. He is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 14.