The proverb says, “a bad penny always comes back to you.”
I though of that when my cell phone rang last Saturday and my colleague, Phil Gambini, said, “Pfeiffer, you won’t believe this.”
Phil then told me how Richard Matt, and another convicted killer, had, in his words, “Shawshanked” their way out of New York’s maximum security Clinton Correctional Facility. I had to think for a moment, to remember the details of the movie he was referencing, but then I just shook my head.
That’s when the proverb, which refers to “the predictable and usually unwelcome return of a disreputable or prodigal person after some absence,” immediately came to mind.
To use some police parlance, Richard Matt is no stranger to me. I’ve chronicled his criminal ways since he first popped into my consciousness by breaking out of the Erie County Correctional Facility in 1986.
But when I last saw him, shackled and shuffling out of a Niagara County courtroom, on May 31, 2008, I thought it was the last time I would think about him. He had received two concurrent sentences of 25 years to life for the robbery, torture and butchering of his former boss and it never occurred to me he’d ever be on the loose again.
Knowing him as I did, I should have known better.
Richard Matt is a bad man.
In more than 35 years as a journalist I’ve seen and covered no shortage of bad men and women, from Timothy McVeigh to James Kopp to William Shrubsall and John Justice. Some killed because of the voices in their heads, others for terribly misguided political and religious reasons.
What sets Matt apart from all the rest is the pure evil he projects. When you are close to him in a courtroom and you lock eyes with him, his stare is cold and remorseless.
You wonder what he’s thinking — but you really don’t want to know.
From his youngest years, I’ve been told he was a smart and crafty kid. But unlike like those kids who use those traits to become great leaders, Ricky Matt seemed intent on using them to become a criminal genius.
For criminals, an escape from a county correctional facility, even briefly as Matt did, would be a crowning achievement. For Matt, that was just a warm up.
His wickedly vicious and senseless robbery and murder of William Rickerson left even his accomplice in the crime terrified.
Then, as police prepared to take him into custody for the murder, Matt was tipped of to his impending arrest and went on the run. As the days and weeks went by without a trace of him, he again faded from my memory.
The bad penny returned a couple of years later, when we got a call in the WIVB TV newsroom from a reporter-photographer in south Texas who said he had an interview with an inmate in a Mexican prison who claimed to be a murder suspect from Buffalo. When the video came into to News 4, I couldn’t believe it.
There, in the middle of the picture, face up against the bars of a cell, filled to over-flowing with inmates, was Richard Matt. He was ranting at the reporter about his mistreatment by his Mexican jailers.
We learned that Matt was serving a 20-year sentence for stabbing to death another American in a bar fight there. I wondered if he’d serve his two decades in a Mexican prison, and if he did, if he’d ever be returned to stand trial here.
The answer to that question came much sooner than I expected.
On another Saturday morning, in 2007, a plane chartered by the U.S. Marshals touched down at a small airfield in south Texas. The U.S. Department of Justice had managed to convince the Mexican government to extradite a drug cartel kingpin to the states to stand trial on charges here.
The kingpin was on the plane and ready to be transferred to U.S. custody. What the marshals didn’t know, was there was a second inmate on that plane.
The Mexican law enforcement officials who were on the plane told the marshals that the inmate had been so troublesome that prison officials in their country no longer wanted any part of him. They were “giving him back.”
The inmate was Richard Matt.
I still wonder how bad you have to be to be too bad for a Mexican prison. Richard Matt was apparently able to set that bar.
His trial for the Rickerson murder was grisly. It took the jury about four hours of deliberations to convict him and more than half the jurors returned to court a few months later to watch him be sentenced and taken away.
I should have known that was not the end of the Richard Matt story.
Contact Reporter Rick Pfeiffer at 282-2311, ext. 2252.