Mathis and Richards guilty of Michelle Kitterman’s murder

Tansy Fae Arwen Mathis, guilty of aggravated first degree murder.Photos by Emily Hanson

Tansy Fae Arwen Mathis, guilty of aggravated first degree murder.Photos by Emily Hanson

OKANOGAN – After less than 12-hours in deliberations, the jury for the Michelle Kitterman murder trial have found Tansy Fae Arwen Mathis and David Eugene Richards guilty.

On April 22 at around 11 p.m., the jury found Mathis, 30 of Tonasket and Spokane, guilty of aggravated first degree murder, first degree manslaughter of an unborn child, first degree kidnapping and tampering with evidence, Sheriff Frank Rogers said. Richards, 34 of Spokane, was found guilty of second degree murder and first degree manslaughter plus the enhancement of being armed.

A third suspect, Brent Lane Phillips, 39 of Spokane, plead guilty earlier to first degree murder and testified at the trial. The fourth suspect, Lacey K. Hirst-Pavek, 35, Tonasket, is scheduled to begin her trial on July 6.

“We are very ecstatic,” Tracy Kitterman, Michelle Kitterman’s mother, said. “We were stunned it happened so fast and very happy with [Mathis'] verdict especially. [Richards] has some time coming, but not as much as I believe he deserves. The verdict is still not enough. It will never be enough because it will never bring my daughter back.”

Prosecuting Attorney Karl Sloan said Mathis faces a mandatory life in prison without parole sentence for her conviction of aggravated first degree murder and that Richards faces a sentence in the range of 123 months and 397 months, depending on his offender score, for the second degree murder charge. The sentencing date has not yet been set.

“The jury instructions were fairly lengthy in this case and we were surprised they were able to get through the materials so quickly, but they obviously worked very diligently at this,” Sloan said. “The jury received the case around 3 p.m. and we were advised they had a verdict between 10:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. Once we learned of it, we advised our Victim Family Advocate, who notified the family.”

Some of the family members were able to make it to Okanogan to hear the verdict, T. Kitterman said, but she and most others did not.

“I was hurt because I wasn’t able to make it,” she said. “I’d been waiting for this and the judge only gave the family 20 minutes to get there, knowing we live in Oroville. However, I was very impressed with Detective Mike Murray, Sloan and Greg Weber; they really came through.”

Sloan said the family normally has the right to speak during the sentencing hearing.

M. Kitterman, who was around 11 weeks pregnant, was known to have been having an affair with Hirst-Pavek’s husband, Daniel Pavek, and was pregnant with his child. On March 1, 2009, her body was found in a driveway off of Stalder Road south of Tonasket with stab wounds in her abdomen, back and arms.

Throughout the trial, the prosecution’s case was that Mathis, Richards and Phillips had been hired by Hirst-Pavek to rough-up and scare Kitterman so she would miscarry her child and that killing her would get them more money.

The defense argued that Mathis, a self-confessed drug dealer, was friends with Pavek and Hirst-Pavek and felt bad for providing Pavek with the drugs that attracted Kitterman to him. The plan was to go to Kitterman and buy her off with drugs to get her to stay away from Pavek and Mathis was bringing Richards with her for protection, since she was a woman traveling alone with drugs. When Richards was unable to make the trip, the defense claimed Phillips volunteered to travel with Mathis and that he was attracted to Kitterman. Phillips, high on methamphetamine, tried to rape Kitterman and killed her in a rage, the defense said.

Mathis testified that she was terrified of Phillips after this and that was why she didn’t tell anyone what he’d done. She said he had made threats against her and her daughter and that she was also in shock. Richards’ attorney, Anthony Frey, based his case on the fact that Richards had not left Spokane that weekend and there was no evidence connecting him to the scene of the crime. Phillips even testified that Richards had not gone on the trip.

The verdict came less than twelve hours after the jury heard closing arguments from Sloan, Frey and Steve Graham, Mathis’ defense attorney.

“We were prepared for any decision the jury might have rendered, but we were hoping [Mathis] would be cleared and the jury would see through the lies of Phillips,” Graham said.

Frey said he was surprised at how hard the jury worked on the verdict.

“While I was disappointed [Richards] was convicted, I was happy he wasn’t convicted of the capital offense of aggravated murder,” Frey said. “It seems unfair that a person who never encountered the victim could be convicted of causing the death of the unborn child.”

Sloan said Richards’ manslaughter conviction came from him being an accomplice of Mathis’ in that killing.

Both Graham and Frey are planning to appeal the convictions for their clients.

“The appeal grounds would be the decision by the trial court to keep the trial here in Okanogan County and the decision to allow witnesses to quote [Hirst-Pavek] as to comments she had made,” Graham said. “Our view was that that was hearsay.”

Frey said he felt there were a lot of things that were questionable throughout this trial and he agreed that trying Richards in Okanogan was one of them.

“The jury said they could be fair and I have to trust they were, however,” Frey concluded.

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