080313- Matt Trial1 - Tonawanda News

080313- Matt Trial1 - Tonawanda News Albert T. McCracken /Contributor Lockport, NY - Accused dismemberment murder, Richard Matt,left, walks to the courtroom with his lawyer, as security was very tight at Niagara County Court on Wednesday 13, 2008 .

William Rickerson fought for his life as two kidnapers took him on a roughly 27-hour long odyssey that stretched from his North Tonawanda home to northeast Ohio and back again.

Bound by tape and locked in a car trunk, Rickerson shouted, banged on the trunk lid and even pulled out the wires to the vehicle’s stereo as he argued with one of his captors over whether or not he had a large stash of cash.

Then somewhere between Allegany State Park and Tonawanda Island, special prosecutor Lou Haremski told a Niagara County Court jury Thursday afternoon, “Richard Matt lost it and snapped Rickerson’s neck.”

“Then (Matt and co-defendant Lee Bates) went to Tonawanda Island, removed Rickerson’s body from the trunk, covered it with a pile of wood and left,” Haremski said.

Sometime later, Matt returned with a hacksaw, dismembered Rickerson’s body and tossed the pieces into the Niagara River.

Now Matt, 41, stands accused of four counts of second-degree murder, two counts of first-degree robbery and three counts of first-degree kidnapping in connection with the December 1997 slaying. Opening statements in his trial took place Thursday after a little more than two days of jury selection.

The panel hearing his case is made of up of nine women and three men, with two male and two female alternates. Testimony in the case is expected to take up to five weeks.

Haremski and fellow former assistant Erie County District Attorney Joseph Mordino are acting as special prosecutors in the case after Niagara County Court Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza determined that local prosecutors faced a conflict of interest. New District Attorney Michael Violante played a role in assigning Matt’s defense lawyers while he served as the county’s public defender in early 2007.

In his opening statement, Haremski told the jury. “What this trial will involve is the story of three men (Rickerson, Matt and Bates). A very tragic story of three men.”

Rickerson, then 76, ran a food brokerage in North Tonawanda. Bates, then 25, was a criminal justice major at Erie Community College and worked for Rickerson.

Matt, then 31, was a former employee of Rickerson’s.

“(Rickerson) ran a cash business. He carried a lot of cash. At least that was the perception,” Haremski said. “Bates developed a penchant for strippers and hung out at MINTS and Pure Platinum in Canada. And Matt, was engaged to a stripper in Canada.”

Bates and Matt had become acquainted at the strip joints and by Dec. 4, 1997, Haremski said both were in need of money and plotted to rob Rickerson. After discussing their plan at Matt’s step-brother’s home, the pair drove to Rickerson’s house and knocked on the door.

“Once they get in, Matt grabs Rickerson, spins him around he starts shouting, ‘Where’s the money? Where’s the money?’,” Haremski said. “Then he pushes (Rickerson) and he falls down a small set of stairs into the family room.”

When Rickerson refused to tell Matt and Bates if he had any cash, Matt became angry. After looking for money in the home’s basement and bedrooms, Matt returned to the family room, holding a knife sharpener.

“Now he’s whacking Rickerson with (the knife sharpener) and asking, ‘Where’s the money? Where’s the money?’,” Haremski said. “But Rickerson isn’t talking.”

At one point during the beating, someone came to Rickerson’s door, but then left. After pouring wine over Rickerson’s head, in an attempt to make him talk, Matt taped up the businessman’s hands and feet, carried him outside clad only in pajamas and slippers and tossed him in the trunk of his car.

“By now, Bates (who confessed his role in the crime to police) feels he’s in over his head,” Haremski said. “Coincidentally, if you go to rob someone and you know them, the odds of getting caught are pretty good.”

After putting Rickerson in the trunk, Matt and Bates drove to Matt’s home, then back to Rickerson’s house to “clean up.” Then they began long drive west, stopping in Erie, Pa., to buy a shovel.

“In the trunk, Rickerson is yelling and shouting and arguing with Matt,” Haremski said, “and (Matt) still wants to know where the money is.”

At an unknown location in Ohio, Bates and Matt got out of the car and tried to dig a hole with the shovel, but discover the ground is too hard to break through. They then began to drive back east, veering off to Allegany State Park, and finally back to the Tonawandas.

Prosecutors said Matt would repeatedly stop the car and open the trunk to argue with Rickerson. It was during one of those stops when Matt began to argue with Bates.

“What are you yelling at him for,” Haremski said Rickerson snapped at Matt. “ ‘(Bates) has nothing to do with this. This is between you and me,’ Rickerson said.”

Haremski said that’s when “Matt lost it and snapped Rickerson’s neck.”

After leaving the businessman’s body under a wood pile on Tonawanda Island, Bates and Matt spilt up, but stayed in touch. At the same time, Haremski said Matt began to confess his crimes to those close to him.

He told his stripper girlfriend “he pushed (Rickerson) and he feel down and died.” Matt told the woman, “I didn’t kill him. I’m not that kind of guy,” according to Haremski.

Matt told his step-brother he cut up Rickerson’s body with a hacksaw.

When a fisherman and his son found Rickerson’s upper torso floating in water off of Fisherman’s Park, the discovery was front page news. When Matt’s step-brother read him a newspaper article on the discover, Matt told him, “That’s’ him, that’s the guy (he dismembered).”

Matt’s defense attorney, public defender Christopher Privateer, told the jury a much different story in his opening statement.

“Mr. Haremski told you (his) version of events, their story and now they have to prove it,” Privateer said. “Prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. I don’t have to prove anything for Mr. Matt.”

Matt, dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and tie, instead of a jail jumpsuit, listened intently at the defense table, occasionally jotting a few notes on a yellow legal pad.

“William Rickerson died in December 1997. The question is: Who did it?” Privateer said. “We know Lee Bates admitted to doing it.”

Privateer told the jury Bates repeatedly changed the details of what he told investigators to benefit himself. Matt, the defense attorney said, had nothing to with the murder.

“Mr. Matt wasn’t there, that’s why we’re here,” Privateer said. “Richard Matt wasn’t there and wasn’t involved in the death of William Rickerson.”

The trial resumes later today with Bates taking the stand to testify.