Porter County Sheriff's Department


What's Happening at The Porter County Sheriff's Department

 

Christopher Matson

Murder, misdeeds add up to 95 years for Matson
Long criminal record nets maximum sentence in shooting death of Porter businessman Rick Pinkerton.

BY BOB KASARDA
Times Staff Writer

VALPARAISO -- The smiles that were on Christopher Matson's face as he entered the courtroom Wednesday morning were long gone as he walked away with a maximum sentence of 95 years for the shooting death of Porter businessman Rick Pinkerton.  The ones wearing the smiles at the end of the sentencing hearing were prosecutors, who had painted Matson as a serious threat to society, as well as members of Pinkerton's family, who shared the pain of losing their grandfather, father, brother and son.  "In one moment, everything is normal and with the pull of a trigger, your life is never the same," son Jim Pinkerton said during an emotional statement before Porter Superior Court Judge Thomas Webber.  "Father's Day is just a few days away and the only gift my sister and I can give our father now is flowers for his grave," he said.  In passing along the maximum sentence, which is made up of 65 years for the murder charge and 30 years for his conviction as a habitual offender, Webber said there is no doubt in his mind Matson is a career criminal in need of correctional treatment behind bars. Matson will serve a minimum of 47-1/2 years, Webber said, which means he will be at least 83-1/2 years old before he is eligible for release.  Matson was found guilty last month of gunning down 56-year-old Pinkerton at his home during what police believe was a botched robbery attempt over Memorial Day weekend last year. The same jury also determined he was a habitual offender, which was upheld Wednesday by Webber.  Pinkerton was co-owner of P&P Pinkerton, an oil distribution company in Porter.  Matson maintained his innocence during Wednesday's hearing and made it clear he intends to appeal his conviction. He requested a replacement for Public Defender Peter Boyles, who he accused of failing to adequately represent him during his trial. Boyles was ready to step aside.  Matson then turned his criticism toward police, claiming the investigation was flawed from the beginning. In a hastily read, yet lengthy statement, he raised questions about evidence used against him and accused investigators of swaying public opinion in their favor by releasing his photo and criminal record early on.  "We are imperfect beings in an imperfect world," he said of the legal system, which he also referred to as draconian.  Shots also were leveled at the jury, which Matson accused of failing to follow instructions.  The statement by Matson did not sit well with Porter County Deputy Prosecutor Todd Shellenbarger, who led the charge on the murder case.  "Matson is a cold-blooded killer," Shellenbarger said following the hearing. "All he can do is blame other people for his acts.  "During the hearing, Shellenbarger painted Matson as a threat to society.  "There is a very high risk, based on the history record, he will commit additional crimes in the future if ever permitted to live in society again," he said.  He outlined how Matson has ran afoul of the law since a young age and has committed many crimes just months after serving time behind bars. Negative reinforcement has done nothing to curtail his criminal behavior, said Shellenbarger.  "That basic rule of human behavior doesn't apply to Mr. Matson," Shellenbarger said. "He's utterly unwilling to face reality.  "In hopes of illustrating Matson's continued tendency for violence, Shellenbarger placed Porter County Detective Commander Mike Veal on the witness stand to testify about the discovery on October 18 of a hand-fashioned knife and handwritten escape plot in Matson's solitary jail cell.  Boyles countered there was no proof the note was from Matson's cell or was written by him.  As Matson was being led away at the end of the hearing, wearing orange jail garb and shackles, he turned back to the few supporters in attendance with a solemn look on his face.  Members of Pinkerton's family took turns thanking Shellenbarger. Among them was son Jim, who looked relieved about receiving his wish for a maximum sentence.  "The best we could have asked for," he said.

 

Jurors find Matson guilty
Verdict is returned in less than an hour.
BY SUSAN BROWN and ROBIN BIESEN Times Staff Writers

VALPARAISO -- After less than an hour of deliberation Tuesday, jurors found Christopher Matson guilty of murder in the shooting death of Porter businessman Rick Pinkerton.  In a second phase of the trial, Matson, 36, will return this morning for a hearing to determine whether he is a habitual offender.  Matson had been charged as a habitual offender under a separate indictment. Prosecutors allege he has two prior unrelated felony convictions. With a third conviction Tuesday, Matson is eligible for habitual offender status.  Between the two charges, Matson faces a maximum 95 years in prison.  Pinkerton, 56, was shot to death during what prosecutors believed to have been a botched robbery committed by Matson last Memorial Day weekend. Pinkerton was the co-owner of P&P Pinkerton, an oil distribution company on U.S. 20 east of Ind. 49.  During closing arguments, Porter County Deputy Prosecutor Todd Shellenbarger told the jury they had abundant evidence to convict Matson in what the trial established to be a circumstantial case.  "(Matson) is the thread that connects everything in this case," Shellenbarger told the jury.  He told the jury he would again review for them how the five key pieces of evidence -- three shell casings, two pizza boxes and a knife -- were connected to each other and ultimately to Matson.  "That will prove Mr. Matson is a murderer," he said.  For seven days, Shellenbarger had hammered home the point, employing 100 exhibits and 52 witnesses, some of whom he said destroyed a "fall guy" story fabricated by Matson.  All the other evidence aside, Shellenbarger argued, a handgun and a scanner alone, recovered from the Arizona residence of Matson's ex-wife, were enough to convict.  The shell casings came from the handgun that belonged to Matson and the scanner showed motive, he said.  "A scanner is a tool of a robber, a burglar, a thief," he said.  There was no other reason for the surgical gloves and the handcuffs recovered with the gun, he argued.  Earlier Tuesday, Paul Fotia, firearms examiner for the Indiana State Police in Lowell, had tied the three shell casings found on the front steps of the Pinkerton home to a Colt .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol belonging to Matson.  Fotia said a pattern of scratch marks on the recovered casings -- which occur naturally when a bullet is fired and are unique to each gun -- matched those made by the recovered gun during a test firing in the police lab.  Meanwhile, public defenders James Tsoutsouris and Peter Boyles reminded jurors that in a circumstantial case, it was their constitutional duty to find the evidence so conclusive it excluded "any reasonable theory of innocence."  Tsoutsouris expressed sympathy to Pinkerton's family.  "No man should be shot in his own house," he said. "Whoever did this is a cold-blooded killer.  "In considering Matson's guilt, Tsoutsouris asked the jury to "think about what is logical."  "What would motivate a man having pizza and beer in East Chicago to drive to Porter County to shoot a man?" he said. "Why would he do that and leave all this evidence behind?"  Boyles questioned the dramatic dissimilarity between Matson and the composites rendered from eyewitness accounts of the shooter.  "Who saw the shooter?" Boyles asked. "Ann Novak."  Novak, Pinkerton's longtime girlfriend, testified she got up from the couch to see who was at the door after it rang unexpectedly, and that's when she saw the shooter.  "The state wants you to reject her testimony," Boyles said. "Why? Because it's not Mr. Matson. It's not even close."  Boyles hit hard on the fingerprint analysis that linked most of the prosecution's evidence. As an example, Boyles used a laptop computer covered with Shellenbarger's fingerprints.  "If I take this Powerbook out tonight and smack it over somebody's head, does that mean Mr. Shellenbarger smacked him in the head?" Boyles asked the jury.  After more than six days of testimony and evidence by the prosecution, the defense wrapped up its case in less than an hour Tuesday.  Estella Magallanes testified she hired Matson to trim trees and do yard work at a home in Munster where she worked. She said Matson worked at the home on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday before Memorial Day.  On Saturday evening she noticed a bicycle in the garage that she had not noticed before.  "I assumed it was Chris's," she said.  The prosecution had argued Matson drove to Porter County, parked his car and rode a bicycle to the scene of the shooting.  "That's the last I heard of the bicycle," Tsoutsouris said of Magallanes' testimony.

 


Christopher Matson is led from the Porter County
 Courthouse by Porter County officers after a court
 appearance. He will remain in jail at least until his
 next hearing in August. (Gregg Gearhart / The Times)

 

Charges filed in fatal shootings  Fingerprint on pizza box prompts murder charge against Matson

VALPARAISO -- Nobody saw the person who killed local businessman Rick Pinkerton at his secluded home six weeks ago.
BY  KEN KOSKY Times Staff Writer

But a few tiny pieces of evidence recovered from the murder scene have led prosecutors to file a murder charge against prime suspect Christopher M. Matson. The 35-year-old Northwest Indiana man was charged Wednesday and faces up to 65 years in prison.  The key to solving the case, police said, is that the killer apparently posed as a pizza delivery person to get Pinkerton to answer his door on the night of May 28. Police believe Matson, who had done landscaping work at Pinkerton's home, was planning to rob him.  But there was a confrontation and Pinkerton was shot. The killer fled without taking anything, but left behind the pizza boxes.  The boxes, which had the name Martinez on them, were traced to a Hammond home where pizza had been purchased under that name a few hours earlier. The person who had ordered the pizzas, an 18-year-old woman, told police Matson apparently left with the pizza boxes.  Laboratory testing showed one of the pizza boxes contained a fingerprint that matched Matson's left index finger. A knife left near Pinkerton's home also contained one of Matson's fingerprints.  Police tracked down Matson in Arizona on June 16 and arrested him on unrelated warrants. His gun was found under his ex-wife's mobile home in Arizona and ballistics testing conducted by the Indiana State Police showed it is the murder weapon.  Chief Deputy Prosecutor Brian Gensel said the fingerprints and gun evidence was confirmed recently, allowing authorities to go forward with the murder charge.  "I'm confident we have the shooter in jail," said Porter Police Chief Len Smith.  The shooting occurred in the town of Porter's jurisdiction -- Pinkerton's home at U.S. 20 and Ind. 49 -- but Smith brought in investigators from other departments to help follow the numerous leads. He credited their work with helping to solve the case.  Detective Commander Mike Veal of the Porter County Sheriff's Department said all the evidence at this point indicates that Matson acted alone.  "That could change, you never know," Veal added.
Veal said Matson denies being the killer and said he has knowledge about who did it.  "But I feel confident we have the right person in custody," Veal said.  Veal said police still have a few people who are not suspects to interview, and there are still some lab test results police are waiting for -- like the testing of the hair found in a ski mask found near Pinkerton's home.  Veal said he spoke with Pinkerton family members about the murder charge being filed Wednesday "and they are of course relieved." Pinkerton, 56, was co-owner of P&P Pinkerton oil distribution in Porter.  Matson will be held without bond in Porter County while he awaits trial. His initial hearing is set for 9 a.m. Friday in front of Porter Superior Court Judge Thomas Webber.  A similar crime landed Matson behind bars from 1983 to 1996. Matson was a juvenile in 1982 when he was involved in a robbery and a shooting at a home in Hammond. The victim in that case survived being shot when he answered the door. Matson, who was not the trigger man in that crime, was still tried as an adult.  Gensel said prosecutors don't anticipate seeking the death penalty in this case.  Porter County Sheriff Dave Reynolds said he's pleased the investigation resulted in an arrest.  "This was a professional investigation based on a cooperative effort," Reynolds said.  "We did everything within our means to investigate this case in the most expedient and professional manner possible. This case was a good example of how different agencies were able to work together, and the results would not have been achieved without the diligence of the investigators on this case."

 

Murder suspect appears in court

Christopher Matson to spend at least two months in jail on probation violations, giving prosecutors time to consider charges in Pinkerton killing

BY KEN KOSKY Times Staff Writer

VALPARAISO -- The prime suspect in the murder of Porter businessman Rick Pinkerton told reporters he's not the killer.   Christopher Matson, 35, also was asked by reporters if he knew who was responsible for the May 28 murder as he was lead into court Wednesday. He replied, "No, I don't."  Matson still hasn't been charged with killing Pinkerton, but he will continue to be held while police continue their investigation.  Porter Superior Court Judge Bob Kennedy on Wednesday ordered Matson to be held without bond in Porter County Jail until his next court hearing on Aug. 22.  On that date, Matson will have to answer charges that he violated his probation on 1997 charges of felony drunken driving and felony possession of marijuana. His probation officer is asking that he be sentenced to serve two years in prison for violating his probation. During his court hearing on Wednesday, Matson denied violating his probation and requested that a public defender be assigned to represent him. Public defender Peter Boyles was assigned to the case.  Matson appeared in court wearing orange jail clothing and shackles on his arms and legs. He was surrounded by at least six uniformed officers at all times. According to court documents, Matson is accused of violating his probation in several different ways: * Failing to pay $440 in probation user's fees. * Testing positive for cocaine in June 1999. * Failing to provide documentation that he completed an Intensive Outpatient Program. * Possessing a handgun while on probation. * Consuming alcohol while on probation. * Leaving the state without permission and then getting arrested in Arizona on June 16 on charges of vehicle theft, forgery, credit card fraud, theft and taking the identity of another. * Committing a theft in Michigan City on Jan. 23, 1999. * Failing to do the required community service. * Failing to report to his probation officer. * Obtaining a fictitious driver's license under the name of Troy Gradow and assumed his identity. A murder charge is expected to be filed against Matson in connection with the Pinkerton murder. Pinkerton, 56, the co-owner of P&P Pinkerton oil distribution, was shot to death at his home about 10 p.m. on May 28. Pinkerton was shot when he answered the front door, apparently by a person posing as a pizza delivery person. Nothing was taken. Matson, who has lived throughout Northwest Indiana, fled to Arizona after the shooting but was arrested June 16.

 

Christopher Matson arrived at Porter County Jail early this morning

 

Suspect in Pinkerton slaying extradited from Arizona
BY  KEN KOSKY Times Staff Writer

Porter County police went to Arizona last week to get Christopher Michael Matson, the prime suspect in the murder of Porter businessman Rick Pinkerton. And on Monday afternoon, with their mission accomplished, the officers left Arizona with Matson in their custody. Porter County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Dave Lain said Matson waived extradition so he could be flown back to Indiana. Lain said the officers and the suspect were scheduled to fly into Indianapolis at 9 p.m. Monday and were due at Porter County Jail by 1 a.m. today. "They did a fine job finding him. ... It went fast," said Assistant Porter Police Chief Jim Menn.  Matson, 35, who has lived throughout Northwest Indiana, was arrested Friday night after police traced him to a motel room in Prescott, Ariz. He will be held on old warrants while police confer with prosecutors about a possible murder charge against him. Menn said Matson has requested an attorney and is not answering questions about the crime.  Porter County Prosecutor James Douglas said Monday he has spoken police on hte telephone, but will need to talk with them in person to discuss charges. Matson could be charged as early as Tuesday with the murder of Pinkerton, 56, of Porter. Pinkerton, the co-owner of P&P Pinkerton oil distribution, was shot to death at his home about 10 p.m. on May 28. Police said the person who shot Pinkerton parked at his business and walked to his home. The home and business are located next to each other near U.S. 20 and Ind. 49. Pinkerton was shot when he answered the front doorbell, apparently by someone posing as a pizza delivery person. Nothing was taken. The .45-caliber handgun that police believe was used to kill Pinkerton was recovered in the Arizona home of one of Matson's relatives, police said. Before he was arrested in Arizona, police said Matson stole a vehicle and cashed a stolen check. But the auto theft and check forgery charges in Arizona will be dropped if Matson is charged with murder in Indiana, said Yavapai, Ariz., County Sheriff's Lt. Dave Snodgrass. Menn said police received information that there were some robberies in the Las Vegas area involving someone posing as a pizza delivery man but authorities haven't been able to confirm that. The warrants Matson is being held on stem from 1997 charges of drunken driving and felony possession of marijuana in Porter County. He is accused of failing to comply with court orders in connection with those charges.

 

Police arrest Pinkerton homicide suspect in Arizona  Officers recover the gun believed used in the crime at home of suspect's relative.
BY JEANETTE LACH Times Staff Writer

PRESCOTT, Ariz. -- Local police arrested the prime suspect in the slaying of Porter businessman Rick Pinkerton late Friday in an Arizona motel room. Christopher Michael Matson was arrested on unrelated warrants, but police expect to return to Indiana on Monday to file charges against him in connection with Pinkerton's death, authorities said Saturday. Porter County sheriff's detectives along with Sheriff Dave Reynolds and Porter Police Chief Len Smith arrested the 35-year-old landscaper about 9 p.m. Friday local time without incident at the Colony Inn in Prescott, Ariz., a mountainous area 94 miles northwest of Phoenix. "I would say he's definitely the prime suspect at this point," said Officer Tim Emmons, spokesman for the Porter County Sheriff's Department. Matson, who has lived throughout Northwest Indiana, was still in custody in the Yavapai County Jail in Prescott on Saturday afternoon. While a Yavapai County Sheriff's press release describes the slaying as a possible "contract killing," local authorities were quick to say the investigation is ongoing and no motive has been established. Early on, however, local investigators believed the shooting was not random, the two knew each other and that Pinkerton had been targeted. They also believed Matson had an accomplice. "He (Matson) did some landscaping and that was his business ... I believe he may have done some work for Mr. Pinkerton in the past," Emmons said Saturday. Police also recovered a .45-caliber handgun at the home of a Matson family member in Clarksdale, Ariz. It is the weapon believed used in the Pinkerton homicide. They also found the beige Ford Crown Victoria Matson was seen driving in Northwest Indiana shortly after the slaying, Emmons said. Police will not reveal other evidence recovered, particularly items found at a Las Vegas residence Matson might have occupied for a period of time. Matson, who has a criminal history, disappeared the night of May 28 when someone walked up to Pinkerton's home at U.S. 20 and Ind. 49, fired three shots at close range, hitting the 56-year-old businessman twice before fleeing. Nothing was stolen. Earlier that night, the well-known co-owner of P & P Pinkerton Oil Co. in Porter had celebrated Memorial Day weekend with his family. But his life ended when he answered the front doorbell around 10 p.m., leaving behind two children, a grandson and his girlfriend of eight years. Further investigation revealed the shooter might have posed as a Pizza Hut deliveryman who left behind two empty medium-sized pizza boxes at Pinkerton's door. A discarded Eastpak backpack containing a red towel with the design of a duck, a black and silver knife, a handkerchief with a camouflage or cow pattern, a ski mask and a pair of binoculars were later recovered. Tips led police to Las Vegas where Matson was believed to be employed delivering souvenir items, said Porter Assistant Police Chief Jim Menn, and to Arizona, where Matson has family. The FBI and the Yavapai County Sheriff's police in Arizona joined the search in the early evening of June 14 when a vehicle matching Matson's was spotted driving northeast of Prescott. Matson fled on foot into a remote desert area when police attempted to stop the vehicle. He eluded authorities during a search of the area by rangers and Yavapai County SWAT team members. But Matson resurfaced two days later in possession of a 1993 Chevrolet S-10 pickup truck stolen from Cottonwood, Ariz., when he tried to forge a check at a Wells Fargo Bank under an assumed name about 4 p.m. Friday. A bank security video caught his image and deputies identified the suspect as Matson. They found Matson checked in at a Prescott motel using the vehicle owner's name with the stolen truck parked just outside the room. About 9 p.m., police arrested Matson at the motel on an outstanding Porter County warrant for felony possession of marijuana and a drunken driving charge, both from 1997. A similar robbery and shooting incident involving Matson as a juvenile in Hammond in 1982 put him behind bars for 13 years. In that case, the victim was shot when he answered the door, but Matson did not pull the trigger.

 

Felon sought in connection with slaying
Christopher M. Matson, a convicted robber who 
knew Rick Pinkerton, disappeared after the shooting

BY  KEN KOSKY Times Staff Writer

PORTER -- Two weeks after local businessman Rick Pinkerton was gunned down at his home, police may be closer to solving his murder.

While Porter police are not officially calling Christopher M. Matson the prime suspect in the murder, they are pulling out all stops to locate the convicted felon for questioning.

Police issued a bulletin to all police agencies asking them to find the "armed and dangerous" Matson and arrest him on warrants unrelated to the murder. Pictures of Matson also have been released to the media in hopes that someone who knows him will call police.

"We believe Mr. Matson may be involved in this case, but we're not releasing details about what we believe his involvement to be at this time," Porter County police spokesman Tim Emmons said Friday.

However, sources told The Times that Matson is the prime suspect in Pinkerton's murder. Matson, a 35-year-old landscaper who has lived throughout Northwest Indiana, knew Pinkerton and knew where he lived.

Matson disappeared after May 28, the night the 56-year-old Pinkerton was shot to death when he answered the door at his home in Porter. Further making police suspicious is that a similar shooting landed Matson behind bars from about 1982 to 1995.

 

Matson's troubled past

BY  KEN KOSKY Times Staff Writer

 

Matson was a juvenile in 1982 when he got involved in a robbery and a shooting at a home in Hammond. He was tried as an adult and served a 13-year sentence. He was convicted of committing the crime with others, but was not the one who pulled the trigger. The victim in that 1982 case, shot when he answered the door at his home, survived. Matson has lived in Porter and Lake counties since getting out of prison. While living in Porter County during 1997, he was shot in the buttocks in a drug-related shooting at his home. Police officers investigating the shooting of Matson found a large amount of marijuana inside Matson's home and he was arrested on a felony possession of marijuana charge. The same year, he was arrested on a drunken driving charge. He failed to comply with court orders in connection with those charges and has been listed as "wanted." Porter County Crime Stoppers featured him as wanted person of the week in February, but he wasn't found. Now, there is $26,000 in reward money for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone in connection with the Pinkerton murder. A lot of work to do Before officially naming Matson the prime suspect, police are waiting for an Indiana State Police lab to analyze the items left behind by Pinkerton's killer to see if they contain any fingerprints that could be matched to Matson's. "They have it on top priority, but we still haven't heard back from the lab yet," said Assistant Porter Police Chief James Menn, adding he hopes to have an answer by next week. Police said if Matson is found anywhere in the U.S., they will seek to have him returned here. Emmons said it's possible Matson left the area, but police received information he may still be around. Menn said that even though a press conference Friday focused on Matson, he hasn't been charged with Pinkerton's murder and police are considering other suspects. Porter County Detective Commander Mike Veal said police are looking into the possibility that whoever shot Pinkerton had an accomplice. "I think we can't limit it to one participant in the crime," Veal said. Porter County Police Capt. Mike Jenkins said that if Matson was involved, robbery is a possible motive. Until the case is solved, Emmons is advising people who see a stranger at the door, especially at night, to consider talking through the door instead of opening it, and to call police if the visitor appears suspicious. Police believe whoever killed Pinkerton posed as a pizza delivery person. Pond, creeks searched People driving past Pinkerton's home at U.S. 20 and Ind. 49 Friday morning may have seen a return of police activity there. Divers from the Porter County Sheriff's Department searched the pond behind Pinkerton's home to see if the gun that killed him was thrown there. Metal detectors also were used. About a mile west -- at U.S. 20 and the Little Calumet River -- Indiana Department of Natural Resources divers searched the water in case the gun was tossed out of the killer's car. A few more miles to the west, Indiana State Police divers checked Salt Creek. The search didn't turn up the gun or other evidence, but police said further land and water searches are possible. Conservation Officer and diver Bob Cauffman, who set up ropes across the Little Calumet so that every inch could be searched in a grid, said if anything was dumped, it would have been found. "It's absolutely the most accurate way to search," Cauffman said. He said that after a murder in Merrillville a few years ago, the gun used in the killing was completely disassembled. Divers found every part of the gun in a river and it was put back together. State Police Master Trooper Bill Runyon recalled another case a few years ago in Logansport where police got a tip that a murder weapon was dropped in the Eel River. It was found in about 90 minutes. And Ransom said that during the shotgun killings that plagued Northwest Indiana about a decade ago, the Sheriff's Department acted on a tip and found a shotgun in Salt Creek. It turned out that gun was not involved.

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