Airman guilty of murder
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on January 28, 2014 1:46 PM
LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. -- Matthew Theurer knew what he was about to read, but when the time came to speak during his court-martial proceeding at Langley Air Force Base Monday, his emotions got the best of him.
And when, after a tear-filled 10-minute recess, Theurer made a second attempt to plead guilty to the murder of his son, his account of just how the 15-month-old ended up wrapped in seven garbage bags on the side of a Columbus County road brought more tears to his eyes.
The Seymour Johnson Air Force Base senior airman accused of starving his namesake to death last year detailed how "Little Matthew" died as a result of his negligence -- and how, after discovering the toddler's body, he attempted to hide what had happened.
The child's health began to deteriorate, Theurer said, shortly after the airman's wife, Amy Jo, moved back to their Indiana hometown.
It was January 2013.
"I was a single parent," Theurer told the court. "Initially, I had a baby sitter."
But when the cost of child care began taking its toll -- the airman said he had done "a terrible job of managing money" -- he decided to leave Matthew at home by himself while he worked what were typically 12- to 13-hour shifts.
His son was confined, via a baby gate, to his bedroom, Theurer said.
And he was left with little to eat and drink -- a "sippy cup of milk" and food that "was not age-appropriate."
The same was true on Feb. 15.
Theurer told the court that on that particular day, he left for work just before 6 a.m. -- that he gave Matthew a sippy cup of milk and some toast to hold him over until dinner.
But when the airman arrived home early that evening, he found the boy "lifeless" on his bedroom floor.
At first, he attempted to revive his son.
And when he failed to do so, he made the decision to cover up what had happened.
"I did not call 9/11 because I was scared," Theurer said.
Instead, he wrapped Little Matthew's body in seven garbage bags.
He packed a suitcase and drove to Myrtle Beach to see his girlfriend -- stopping along the way to dump the body.
"I got Matthew out of the back (of the car) and put his body in the woods on the side of the road," Theurer said.
For the next several weeks, he "told lies" to avoid an investigation.
But on March 12, nearly a month after he found the 15-month-old unresponsive in his home on Seymour Johnson AFB, he "just could not live with my son's death anymore."
"I felt completely numb," Theurer said.
So he attempted to commit suicide.
And when his attempt failed, he confessed -- first to a comrade, then to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.
"Telling them everything is probably the only thing I did right," he told the court. "I did not want my son to die. I know it may be hard for people to understand, but I did love my son.
"I'm sorry for everything I did and did not do. And I wish I could take it all back."
By the time the proceedings were put on hold until this morning, Theurer had pleaded guilty to making a false official statement, murder while engaging in an act inherently dangerous to another, child endangerment and obstruction of justice.
And when, with each charge, Judge (Lt. Col.) Josh Kastenberg asked him if he was certain he understood what he was admitting to, the airman replied, "Yes, your honor."
Based on his guilty pleas, Theurer faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole and a dishonorable discharge from the Air Force.
But military law grants the judge the power, despite the pre-trial deal reached, to sentence the young man to the term he sees fit.
Only then will Kastenberg disclose what sentence the convening authority agreed to in the deal. Theurer would then receive the lesser of the two sentences.
The sentencing phase of the trial was scheduled to begin at 9 a.m.
But whatever the outcome, the airman made one thing clear Monday.
"I don't know the medical reason he died, but I know it was because of me neglecting him," Theurer said. "No matter what, I know my son's death was my fault."