Father to face charges in son's murder
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on January 26, 2014 1:50 AM
A court-martial for the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base senior airman charged in connection with the death of his 15-month-old son is scheduled to begin as early as Monday at Langley Air Force Base, military officials confirmed.
Matthew Theurer will face six charges -- making a false official statement, murder by actions inherently dangerous to another, involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, child endangerment and obstruction of justice -- for allegedly neglecting his baby and, upon discovering him dead inside a base housing unit, placing him in a garbage bag and throwing his body on the side of a road located between Goldsboro and Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Theurer was charged after the body of his son, also named Matthew, was found March 12, 2013, wrapped in trash bags alongside a Columbus County road -- a location sources close to the investigation said the airman provided to authorities when asked about the toddler's whereabouts.
According to testimony delivered last summer during an Article 32 hearing, investigating officers said the airman allegedly threw the bag containing his son's body across a shallow canal while he was en route to spend the weekend with a female friend in Myrtle Beach.
The state medical examiner's office ruled "severe malnutrition" as the cause of the child's death and the autopsy report revealed more details about the investigation -- that in the final 10 months of the child's life, he dropped in weight from the 50th percentile to the 5th; that little Matthew was "left alone for approximately 12 hours every day and was provided with little food while his father was at work"; how "on at least two occasions, he was left alone overnight."
A source with knowledge of the events that led to the airman's confinement told The News-Argus that the day lawmen found the 15-month-old's body, Theurer failed to report for work -- that another airman went to check on him and that when he arrived at the Theurer residence, the then-21-year-old threatened to commit suicide.
When asked about his son, he allegedly said the toddler was gone and that statement, along with the condition of the airman's home, led the other airman to take action.
OSI and Security Forces personnel were contacted and Theurer was taken into custody, where he allegedly confessed to dumping the body outside of town after "finding young Matthew dead inside his base housing unit."
Less than 24 hours later, the news had spread across Seymour Johnson.
One woman said she was shocked that "a quiet young man who kept to himself" was at the center of such a tragic turn of events.
But she acknowledged that when, in her words, Theurer's estranged wife, Amy Jo, left him and returned to their Indiana hometown, he became even more withdrawn.
The child's mother has not yet spoken to the media about the case.
During the 2013 Article 32 hearing, Col. Brian Thompson, the Air Force's chief senior trial counsel, asked that the premeditated murder charge be included in the report, but defense attorney Capt. Johnathan Legg objected, arguing that the evidence did not warrant such a charge.
Legg did not call any witnesses or present any testimony on Theurer's behalf, but several witnesses did take the stand.
Dr. Deborah Radisch, the state's chief medical examiner who performed the autopsy on the toddler, talked about the condition of the remains.
"In my opinion, the cause of death was severe malnutrition," she said. "The first obvious observation was just to look at the body and see the condition of the body."
The toddler weighed 13 pounds, 8 ounces and appeared dehydrated, she added, which put Matthew "well below the fifth percentile" on the growth chart -- an average male child of the same age should weigh about 22 pounds.
"This did not happen overnight," Dr. Radisch said. "The signs were there that something wasn't going right and medical attention should be sought."
Amy Jo also testified.
She said the couple's relationship had started off "great" after they were married in March 2010, but had deteriorated.
Then, when she moved back to Indiana in late April 2012 -- staying first with her mother, then her father and stepmother before moving in with her boyfriend -- she contacted Theurer in June 2012 about taking custody of their son.
"I was moving from place to place and I couldn't take care of him like I needed to, so I asked Matt to take care of him until I was back up on my feet," she said.
OSI officials spoke, also.
The house, they said, smelled strongly of urine and was "messy."
The toddler's crib appeared to be stained with bodily fluids, possibly urine, from the bed to the floor.
It is unclear at this time if the Air Force will pursue convictions on all six charges when the proceedings begin this week.
But according to Article 118 of the United States Code of Military Justice, should a jury find Theurer guilty of premeditated murder, the young man would face either the death penalty or life in prison.
The News-Argus will be at Langley for the duration of the court-martial and updates will be provided each afternoon on what transpired in court on NewsArgus.com