Judge delivers Theurer penalty
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on January 29, 2014 1:46 PM
LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. -- The Seymour Johnson Air Force Base senior airman who pleaded guilty Monday to, among other things, starving his 15-month-old son to death, was sentenced at just after midnight today to life in prison and a dishonorable discharge from the Air Force.
But when, after Judge (Lt. Col.) Josh Kastenberg announced his decision, he disclosed the details of the pre-trial plea agreement that shortened what could have been a lengthy court-martial proceeding to a two-day affair, Matthew Theurer received a lighter term.
The soon-to-be former airman will only serve a maximum of 40 years.
Theurer told the court Monday that after his wife, Amy Jo, left him back in 2012, he became a single parent -- that financial woes made child care unfeasible.
So for the last several months of his son's life, he confined the child to his bedroom via a baby gate -- leaving him home alone, for up to 13 hours a day, with a "sippy cup of milk" and food "that was not age-appropriate."
But testimony delivered Tuesday as part of the sentencing process shed new light on "Little Matthew's" plight from the time his mother went back to Indiana to the day he died.
Amy Jo left Goldsboro in April of that year.
And when, after staying with her son at several different places in her hometown over the next few weeks, she determined she could not properly care for the child, she asked the airman to take him back to Seymour Johnson.
Goldsboro resident Deborah Sutton testified that from the time Little Matthew came back to the city until Thanksgiving 2012, she looked after him while his father was at work.
"I said, 'Well, I will keep the baby for you,'" she told the court.
Over the course of those months, she said she taught Little Matthew new things and introduced him to table food and juices.
She bought him diapers and cleaned his clothes.
She took his father to the grocery store and tried to educate him on the proper diet for a toddler.
"He was a great baby," she said. "That smile."
But the boy's father sometimes behaved in a way that disturbed her, she added.
There were days when the baby had no food or milk -- when he would be dropped off at her home wearing dirty clothes, she said.
And when, after his shift, Theurer would come for his son, he would "plop down in the chair" and "start texting."
"I would say, 'Matt. The baby's reaching out to you,'" she told the court. "But he would just keep texting."
At one point, Ms. Sutton kept Little Matthew for two weeks "around the clock."
And she testified that other than occasionally splitting the cost of groceries with Theurer, she never asked for -- or expected -- payment for her services.
"He didn't pay me cash money to babysit," she said.
After Thanksgiving -- Theurer and Little Matthew were guests at her home that evening for dinner -- Ms. Sutton never saw the baby again.
Theurer told her, she said, that he was enrolling his son in on-base daycare because driving him to her home was making him late to work.
So when she heard about Little Matthew's death, "it hurt me deeply."
"I would have taken him," she said, as tears rolled off her cheeks. "He could have always brought (Little Matthew) to me."
By January 2013, Theurer was leaving his son at home alone daily while he worked long shifts on the base.
And according to his estranged wife, he had threatened to commit suicide and told her that he did not have enough money to buy food for their son.
The airman's attorneys asked Amy Jo why she didn't, knowing about his financial woes and her son's waning health, take action.
"I didn't have a job," she told the court. "I'm still looking for a job."
And when they asked her why she didn't come to Goldsboro for her son's first birthday, despite Theurer's offer to pay for her trip, she said she "couldn't."
"I didn't trust myself ... with him," she said.
But she claimed that the airman eased her mind about Little Matthew's health problems by telling her "he had a pediatrician coming in to take care of him while he was at work."
In reality, the boy had not been to a doctor since his 4-month check-up -- a visit at which a pediatrician told the parents that their son was behind developmentally and needed to put on weight.
And whether or not Theurer could afford food for Little Matthew -- attorneys for the government argued that the couple could afford, at the time, cigarettes and cell phones -- the airman acknowledged Monday that he neglected his son.
In the airman's words, the day the boy died, Feb. 15, 2013, he left for work just before 6 a.m.
He gave his son "a sippy cup of milk and some toast" to hold him over until dinner and confined him to his bedroom, as he had every day since January, with a baby gate.
And 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 911 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, 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."
Theurer will never again serve his country.
And even though he will not be forced to serve out the life sentence handed down early this morning by Kastenberg, he will be confined for up to 40 years.
The airman was emotional throughout the proceedings and, in a statement he read to the court, took responsibility and apologized for what happened.
"I don't know the medical reason he died, but I know it was because of me neglecting him," Theurer said Monday. "No matter what, I know my son's death was my fault."