City man found guilty in sexual assault

Thursday May 17, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- A Pittsfield man, accused of sexually assaulting a woman while she slept, was found guilty of one count of rape on Wednesday in Berkshire Superior Court. He was found not guilty of a second count of rape.

Stephen Matthews' trial saw the alleged victim take the stand, but he did not testify.

Before the 23-year-old Matthews is sentenced, he will undergo a mental health evaluation on June 7. He remains out on bail.

On Tuesday, attorneys in the case made their final arguments, focusing on DNA evidence and a partial confession by the defendant recorded on video by the Pittsfield Police.

The eight-woman and four-man jury found Matthews guilty of the rape to which he confessed on the video, but not on a second count which he denied during police questioning. His lawyer argued the confession was coerced.

The jury deliberated for about seven hours over a two-day period.

Police and prosecutors said Matthews, a friend of the alleged victim, raped her while she was asleep next to her boyfriend one night in February 2010.

The woman, 27 at the time, said she had taken two Xanax before going to bed and was awakened when she felt someone touching her and at first believed she was dreaming.

"She was in that period between being asleep and fully awake," Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Marianne Shelvey told the jury.

Matthews' attorney, Jill Sheldon, told the jury to "focus on the details," including inconsistencies in the alleged victim's statements to police, the taped confession and problems with the DNA evidence.

The woman, said Sheldon, initially lied to police about the blanket that covered her during the attack, telling them she had given it to a friend to burn because she didn't want to see it again. The woman later admitted to police she had made the story up. She also admitted lying to police about how much alcohol her boyfriend had consumed that night.

Shelvey said the woman lied about what happened to the blanket so she wouldn't have to give police her new Snuggie as evidence and that she was trying to protect her boyfriend, who was on probation, by telling police he had only had two beers, when he had had six.

The taped confession, in which Matthews admitted to some of the allegations, but not all, was coerced, said Sheldon. Matthews suffers from mental impairments and gave police a false confession, she said.

Shelvey argued that Matthews was coherent and rational, got caught in small lies and eventually confessed when he realized he was going to get caught.

"He knew what he was doing," she said.

The DNA evidence included an unknown contributor, which Sheldon said indicated the evidence had been tainted in the lab.

The prosecutor said it was possible the unknown DNA came from the bed the couple was sleeping on.

On Wednesday, following the verdict, Shelvey asked that Matthews' bail be revoked pending his sentencing. Sheldon asked that he remain out on bail for both medical reasons and so he could attend his grandmother's funeral.

Judge Daniel A. Ford agreed to Sheldon's request, but ordered that Matthews check in with probation on a daily basis, stay away from the victim, and agree to alcohol and drug testing.


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