A Wake County jury will resume deliberations Friday in a case – against the emotional backdrop of a teen’s tragic death – that weighs the responsibility adults have in monitoring underage drinking.
After deliberating for an hour and a half, the eight men and four women left court Thursday night with questions remaining about the evidence, asking to see exhibits, including photos of the wedding reception inside the Vance Street home of Charles Matthews, a 59-year-old doctor, and his wife, Kimberley Matthews, 52.
The couple stand accused of knowingly aiding and abetting underage drinking that led to the fatal wreck that claimed the life of Jonathon “JT” Taylor.
Taylor, who attended a wedding party at the Matthewses’ house on June 29, 2014, died after driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.20, or 21/2 times the legal threshold. He was 18 when his car left the road going 89 miles per hour, colliding with a tree.
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When the jury reconvenes Friday morning, the judge plans to let them see the photos of the wedding party that Taylor attended, the layout of the event and text messages. The jury began meeting Thursday afternoon after closing arguments that reviewed the evidence that was presented beginning Tuesday.
Witnesses testified that they saw Taylor, a Ravenscroft classmate of the Matthewses’ son Thomas, and three other teens drinking wine at the wedding party. The teens had also consumed a fifth of Jack Daniel’s whiskey in a neighbor’s yard, according to testimony. The whiskey was purchased before the party by Thomas Matthews at an ABC store.
Judge Osmond Smith heard two motions to dismiss the case from defense attorney Hart Miles. Both were rejected. Neither Charles nor Kimberley Matthews testified in their defense. They told the judge while the jurors were out of the room that they had chosen not to.
The prosecution argued that it defies common sense to suggest that the Matthewses were unaware the teenagers were drinking at the party. To bolster that contention, Jason Waller, a Wake County assistant district attorney, displayed several photos showing the 17- and 18-year-olds holding wine glasses at the wedding party.
“The buck stopped with them,” Waller said of the Matthewses. “It was their house; it was their wedding; it was their alcohol.”
The defense, which called no witnesses, argued that prosecutors are basing their case on the sad fact that Taylor died that night and that there was no direct evidence that the Matthewses supplied the teens with alcohol or condoned their underage drinking.
“This investigation was an emotional response to a tragedy,” Miles said.
The defense argued throughout the trial that the Matthewses were unfairly targeted in the investigation. They were charged about a month after the night of the party. The defense argues that much of the push to bring the misdemeanor criminal charges against the Matthewses stemmed from Gregory Taylor, JT Taylor’s father and a state trooper since 1999.
“What kind of pressure does that create?” Miles said.
The bartenders and caterers at the wedding were not charged, and Sgt. Sean Hoolan of the Raleigh Police Department explained Thursday before closing arguments that investigators did not gather enough evidence to file charges. Hoolan said he focused on the Matthewses after viewing photos of the wedding. The couple had employed a photographer, who took as many as 4,000 photos, only 30 or 40 of which were displayed to the jury.
“Did you hear the whole story, or was it cherry-picked to try to create a narrative that just doesn’t hold water?” Miles asked the jury.
In addition to being accused of allowing Taylor’s underage drinking, the Matthewses are also accused of helping their own son and two teenage girls to imbibe at the party. One of the girls required emergency medical attention in the Matthewses’ basement. The other girl was sick and had to call her father to come pick her up.
In resting his case, Waller left jurors with an audible reminder about the underage drinking that night. He played a 911 call from the Matthewses’ home after the couple sought an ambulance for one of the girls. Charles Matthews, a neurologist, can be heard telling the dispatcher that the girl was unresponsive but breathing and that he could resuscitate her if needed until help arrived.
Waller argued that the parents of the other three teenagers trusted that their children were going to be safe and that the Matthewses were “inconsiderate” by allowing the drinking to continue.
“I understand that there’s going to be wine at a lot of weddings,” Waller said. “But when you bring that wine, when you bring that alcohol to the wedding, it adds some responsibility when you allow 18- and 17-year-old teenagers to be there.”
Miles pointed out that these teenagers, three of whom were 18 years old at the time of the party, would be considered adults in many settings. The defense attorney added there is no direct evidence, only circumstantial, to suggest the couple were aware of the underage drinking occurring at the party. The Matthewses could not be expected to keep tabs on a group of teenagers during their daughter’s wedding reception, he said.
“At that wedding, was it indifference to be focused on their daughter on the biggest day of her life?” Miles said.