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Richard Mathews, Accused of Mercy Killing in Mother’s Death, Sentenced to Two Years

| October 6, 2014

Richard Mathews is at the Flagler County jail on $250,000 bond.

Richard Mathews is at the Flagler County jail on $250,000 bond.

Richard Mathews was sentenced to two years in prison Monday for the death of his 88-year-old mother, Mary Shaw Mathews, in February, a death he helped bring on at his mother’s urging after taking care of her for two years. Mathews had faced up to 15 years in prison on a second-degree felony.

Circuit Judge J. David Walsh imposed the much lighter sentence after hearing from Mathews’ family in court today, and in light of the evidence of the case, which revealed a son struggling to honor his mother’s wish, battling himself, and in the end attempting to kill her as she wished–by strangulation–but proving unable to completely go through with it until over-medication did the rest. Walsh described the case as a difficult one, and the prosecution was itself conflicted enough to leave the sentencing entirely up to the judge. Usually, the prosecution recommends a sentence, and seldom recommends one on the lighter side of the punishment spectrum.

Today’s outcome reflected a judicial system grappling with the gray area between mercy killing, which is not allowed by law, and a form of induced death–albeit crude, in this case–urged by the patient, and not uncommonly carried out under more controlled medical circumstances by hospice companies in end-of-life situations, when a patient’s “comfort” is a euphemism for over-medication.

For Mathews, the decision, while not his, was never simple to carry out. An alcoholic, he had told his mother, after she had requested that he strangle her, that he would have to drink himself into a drunken state to carry out the deed, “and you don;t want me to do that,” he had told her, according to what he recounted to investigators. Nevertheless, he bought a $17.11 bottle of vodka, drank, “and then went out there and then she wouldn’t go out.” Speaking to investigators, he said, “after two minutes she didn’t go out and I went (holding his hands up) I just raised my hands and said momma, I can’t do it, I can’t do it.”

But Mary Mathews was frail, and a medical examiner would later attribute her death to strangulation.

Mathews addressed the court Monday, apologizing to his family and saying he loved his parents very much. His brothers testified about the poor health of their mother and said they were thankful that Rick, as they called him, took care of her.

In addition to the two-year sentence, which will include time served, Mathews will be on drug offender probation for five years after his release. He was defended by attorney William Partington.

The previous story is below.

Richard Mathews, 62, Is Charged With Manslaughter in His Mother’s Death, Which He Says She Wanted

April 23, 2014–At first the death of 88-year-old Mary Shaw Mathews at her Palm Coast home on Feb. 21 did not raise suspicions after her son Richard called authorities to report it. Paramedics found no sign of trauma on the elderly woman, who had been ill and in decline, and whose doctor, Jecebu Ceballos, signed off on the death certificate.

But when Richard Mathews, 62, of 26 Ellsworth Drive in Palm Coast, went to Lohman Funeral Home to discuss formalities, personnel there found him quite drunk and distraught as he allegedly shocked them with this revelation: his mother, Mathews told funeral home personnel, had asked him to end her life. At first he tried to do so by strangling her but failed. He then gave her an excessive amount of sleeping pills and watched her in her chair, “checking on her and making sure she was breathing, and then she wasn’t breathing,” as Richard put it. “The good lord took her and I didn’t have to do it.”

On Wednesday (April 23), Richard Mathews was charged with manslaughter—that is, killing Mary Mathews by culpable negligence, by way of strangulation and overmedication. The manslaughter charge is a second-degree felony. He was arrested and booked at the Flagler County jail on $250,000 bond, where he remains.

According to his arrest record, the medical examiner conducted an autopsy following the encounter between Mathews and the funeral home personnel. The Feb. 27 autopsy discovered contusions and hemorrhaging of the larynx and tongue portion in Mary’s neck. The autopsy also found that she had been suffering from congestive heart failure and had been in generally poor health.

When Richard Mathews spoke to a detective after the autopsy, Mathews described his mother as acting normal the day she died, but that about three days before, she had asked him to kill her. Mathews noted that the request was made after a visit with Mary by her other son, Mark, who visited his mother every Tuesday.

Several portions of the arrest record are redacted, but Richard is quoted at length explaining the rationale behind hat he was willing to do and not do. Conceding that he is an alcoholic, he said, according to the report: “You know it’s one thing to be loaded and be able to do something but when you wake up from it and realize what you’ve done, it can be hard to live with. You know, not that I’ve kill[ed] anybody before but I have a friend who has. A detective asked him if he would consider killing someone.

“Religiously I know I would have been forgiven, cause there is only one sin that is unforgivable and that’s the sin of unbelief, you can read that in the Book of Hebrews,” he replied. “I have no problem with that part of it, but I just did not want to do it.” He added: “I was hoping that God would just go ahead and take her and that’s essentially what happened.”

He was asked about the bruising on his mother’s neck. He said at first that possibly Mary herself had caused it, as she had talked of killing herself and had told him that she’d tried to strangle herself. But he then conceded that he had attempted to strangle her as well, and showed what he’d attempted to do. The medical examiner confirmed that the description of Richard’s actions was consistent with the injuries discovered. Because of Mary’s frail condition, she would have likely lost consciousness within 30 seconds, the medical examiner said, and died in less than a minute. The medical examiner listed the cause of death as homicide, and the manner of death as strangulation.

In a subsequent interview with detectives, Richard said he never overmedicated his mother, and that if he’d said so previously, he was “probably loaded” at the time. But the medical examiner’s report showed that there were wide discrepancies between the amount of medication that should have been in Mary’s system at the time of death, and the amounts that actually were, with four medications showing actual amounts exceeding normal amounts by up to 10 times.

Assisted suicide is not legal in Florida, although lines can blur in many cases and with the implementation of hospice care:  medical interventions, certain medications and even food can be withheld while pain medications are increased, essentially accelerating the process while aiming to reduce suffering.

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9 Responses for “Richard Mathews, Accused of Mercy Killing in Mother’s Death, Sentenced to Two Years”

  1. Nikia says:

    Not really buying the assisted suicide theory. Too many inconsistencies here.

  2. Steve Wolfe says:

    Where do we go from here? Will he get a pro bono attorney that is interested in forwarding the pro-assisted suicide lobby? I can’t imagine doing what he did, yet I saw both my parents suffer in their final days. I wonder how I will feel about the subject when I am in that place. I can support the concept, while I am healthy, that God made me, and therefore has the ultimate right to my life, not me. But if I am suffering terribly, will my weakened flesh compel me to beg someone to push me over the edge in order to bypass the necessary final torment?

    And if I don’t leave my wishes in writing in order to exonerate my facilitator, will he/she be prosecuted as a murderer for honoring my request for their act of mercy?

    All I can say is, it’s better to be me right now.

  3. RHWeir says:

    Very sad and tragic story. A few things really stick out on this. The doctor who signed off on the death certificate needs to be investigated at the very least. Also, didn’t anyone, even EMT staff, notice contusions on the lady’s neck? Being drunk is no excuse for anything, one retains total responsibility for ones actions. Richard is going to find out at age 62, that he is indeed totally responsible for his actions at all times.


    Mercy killing is a form of unbelief because you are setting yourself above God as arbiter of the situation. In effect you are saying that you have a plan that is better than his.

    That said, I also believe in free will, and if someone wants to make that decision for themselves, take the responsibility for their own death, they should be allowed to do so. — but by their own hand — taking that responsibility onto themselves. To ask another person to do it because you don’t have the nerve is the height of cowardice.

  5. Genie says:

    This is so very sad, I don’t know what to say. Somehow I doubt his mother would have wanted him to spend the rest of his life in prison.

  6. A.S.F. says:

    People in extreme pain might say almost anything is a desperate plea to make the pain stop. I urge anyone who sees anyone suffering like this (and their family) to seek help from a hospice or palliative care facility. If this is, indeed, what happened here, this is such a tragedy! However, even if this poor woman was in her right mind and crying for mercy, strangling is not an easy way to go. I can’t imagine anyone thinking that it would be, no matter how intoxicated they might be.

  7. Shoregal says:

    When an elderly person who has an extensive medical history died at home and there is no “apparent” foul play…The attending physician is required to sign the death certificate certifying to the best of his or her knowledge what they died of. This is usually what they were being treated for.. The DR. Did nothing wrong… The only person that did wrong was this man ending his mothers life by his hands.. Funeral home staff have been known to see trauma or other suspicious evidence on the body of the deceased. Funeral homes are required by law to report anything that is suspicious. It happens far more often than people realize.

  8. A.S.F. says:

    This is a sad end to a terribly tragic story but let’s hope Mr. Mathews will turn his life around and get some help while he is in prison. It would be a way for him to make amends to his family.

  9. Ed says:

    This is no difference at all in a terminally ill patient under hospice care where “food is withheld and medication is increased” to expedite the inevitable. It’s makes everyone feel better to white wash it I guess. If you’re going to say this woman and her son were “playing God” then that means hospice and the doctor’s are “playing God”. I’m quite sure that God knows all of our physical bodies are going to die one way or another and I don’t think it matters much to God how we die as much as it matters how we’ve lived.

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