After four hours of deliberation, a Niagara County Court jury found Richard Matt guilty on three charges of second-degree murder, two charges of first-degree robbery and three charges of first-degree kidnapping.

After listening for almost four weeks to more than 30 witnesses, nine women and three men decided Matt is the cold-blooded killer that prosecutors call him instead of a guy being set up by a former friend as his defense contends.

Matt’s charges stemmed from the December 1997 robbery, kidnapping and dismemberment murder of North Tonawanda businessman William Rickerson.

His co-defendant in the case, Lee Bates, is serving a 15 years-to-life prison term for his June 1998 guilty plea to a charge of second-degree murder as an accomplice. Bates spent more than two days on the witness stand testifying against his former pal, who he met while hanging out at a Canadian strip joint.

Defense co-counsel Matthew Pynn said that Matt was confident he would be acquitted before the jury came back. Afterward, Matt sat steely-eyed and emotionless as the jury forewoman read her guilty verdict on all charges.

“He took it very calmly and stoically,” Pynn said.

Pynn said he had no regrets about how the case was handled and he was sure there would be an appeal. Public Defender Christopher Privateer said he was disappointed at the result, and that he would see during the coming week if there was anything to be done about it.

Members of Rickerson’s family burst into tears as the verdicts came in and shook hands with prosecutors. The victim’s son, William Rickerson, Jr., said he couldn’t image two more dedicated and qualified people than the prosecutors who handled the case.

“I’m grateful to see that Matt will be off the streets,” Rickerson said. “I’d like to thank the judge, the jury and especially our two prosecutors who did excellent work.”

Mordino said there was never a doubt in his mind that Matt was the killer, but Special Prosecutor Lou Haremski said even when the perpetrator is found guilty, there’s never any real satisfaction when a family like the Rickersons have had to endure such a loss.

“You can never be sure what the jury is going to do regardless of what the proof is,” Haremski said. “But this was the outcome we hoped for.”

Matt will be in court again for sentencing at 9 a.m. on May 30 and is being held without bail.

On Monday, Matt’s defense told the jury in their closing arguments that Bates killed Rickerson and then sought Matt’s help only in disposing of the body. His lawyers said Matt did help Bates “cut up Mr. Rickerson and threw the body (parts) in the (Niagara River).”

In his more than two hour closing argument on Tuesday, special prosecutor Joe Mordino told jurors the defense’s story made no sense.

“Why would you cut up a body if you’re not the killer?” Mordino asked. “And Bates, the guy who defecated in his pants when Rickerson died, Bates the cry baby, a mama’s boy, he could have (cut up Rickerson’s body)? He doesn’t have the stomach for it.”

Mordino methodically presented what he called the “overwhelming evidence” of Matt’s guilt. He said suggestions that Bates had organized a conspiracy to frame Matt for the killings was a figment of his defense team’s imagination.

“So it seemed like everyone was conspiring against Ricky Matt,” Mordino said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “If you look at what the witnesses were saying, where did (their testimony) come from? It came from (Matt). He was telling people things and every time he spoke, he was digging his own grave a little deeper.”

In particular, Mordino pointed to a letter that Matt wrote to Bates’ family from a Matamoros, Mexico, jail. Matt was arrested there shortly after fleeing from North Tonawanda and was sentenced to 20 years in prison for stabbing another American to death in a fight outside a bar.

Mexican prison officials released Matt with a group of drug kingpins being extradited back to the U.S. in January 2007.

In the so-called “Matamoros letter”, Matt tells Bates’ family that if they bring him $10,000, “half $50s and half in $100s”, he will clear Bates on any involvement in Rickerson’s murder.

Matt writes in the letter that, “I was there.” and says Bates “is just as guilty as me of killing B. Rickerson.”

“(Matt) basically admits the crime,” Mordino said. “You just can’t ignore that proof. You could convict him on that alone.”

The special prosecutor also took aim at defense claims that his case was based entirely on the testimony of Bates, who admitted that he lied multiple times to police in the early stages of their investigation.

“The case is not based on the Lee Bates version of what happened,” Mordino told the jury. “It’s based (on the testimony) of all the witnesses.”

In particular, Mordino said the testimony of retired City of Tonawanda police Capt. David Bentley proved his point.

“Bentley, wow, he should have been a prosecution witness,” Mordino said. “He knocked the pins out of the defense case. What does Matt tell (Bentley)? He cut up the body. He put (Rickerson) in the trunk, drove through Pennsylvania and northeastern Ohio, 27 hours on the road, Rickerson ripped out the stereo wires, not many people knew that. The defendants own actions nailed him. Not once did he deny he (killed Rickerson). Not one statement that, ‘Bates did it.’ ”

Finally, Mordino called on the jury to take a hard look at any claim that Bates was a lone killer in the case.

“Cold blooded killers don’t spill their guts (to investigators),” Mordino said. “Weaklings do. Bates as a wuss, a big baby, not a cold blooded killer.”

Before letting the jury go, Mordino asked them to finish the story of the Rickerson case.

“What you heard in this courtroom in the last month was a horror story,” the prosecutor said. “It was a real horror story written and produced by Richard Matt. (But) you can write the last chapter. You can find (Matt) guilty. Show him the mercy he showed Bill Rickerson.”

Jurors did just that after their break for dinner. After having the legal definition of the word ‘intent’ clarified twice, the jury found Matt guilty of all charges.

Matt will be in court again for sentencing at 9 a.m. on May 30 and is being held without bail.

Recommended for you