NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) – It's been one of the highest profile cases in New Hanover County in recent memory. Anthony Pierce is facing charges in relation to the death of Wilmington Police Officer Richard Matthews.
The prosecution wrapped its case Tuesday, and after a week of testimony, Judge Phyllis Gorham decided on the following charges:
- Second degree murder, which will include an option for involuntary manslaughter
- Operating a motor vehicle to elude arrest causing death, which will include an option for the lesser charge of fleeing to elude causing death, or fleeing to elude
- Two counts of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon
- Possession of marijuana with intent to sell and deliver, which will include an option for the lesser charge of possession of marijuana
It was standing room only when closing arguments began in court Wednesday morning. The courtroom was so full, people in support of the prosecution and Matthews' family spilled onto the defense's side of the room.
"Make no mistake about it, it's Rich's day in court," said District Attorney Ben David.
Before the closing arguments began, Judge Gorham explained the jurors must decide if Pierce had "implied malice," meaning he knew his actions could cause death of a police officer involved.
David concluded the incident wasn't an accident, but it was a collision between officers and criminals. He said anyone who thinks drugs are victimless have never met Matthews' family. He reminded the jury that Matthews' was not on trial and that his speed should not be a factor because he was going to help a fellow officer.
"He needed back up and Rich Matthews was running to his aid," said David, as he talked about Sgt. Will Richards' request for help.
The district attorney told the jury they need to consider the three 'R's.'
- Was it reasonable?
- Who was responsible?
- What were the repercussions?
As David wrapped up his arguments he told the jury Matthews never got to sign off duty. He said the officer will always be on patrol and asked the jury to give him the justice he deserved.
Defense Attorney Andrew Waters began his closing arguments by reminding the jurors why they were chosen – because they told the attorneys they could be fair.
"You said, 'I will not be swayed by sympathy for a victim. I will not be swayed by emotion.'" Waters said.
During his argument, Waters reminded jurors of the police department's pursuit policy which says officers should not enter pursuit if the reason for the stop is "an infraction." Waters read part of the manual to the jury stating, "units not involved in the pursuit must obey all traffic laws."
"Excessive speed and evasive maneuvers were the cause of Officer Matthew's death," Waters told the jury.
While David told the jury to think about the three 'R's,' Waters told jurors to remember the five 'W's.'
Waters told jurors they need to take the testimony from police officers with the same weight as testimony from people who are not in uniform.
Judge Gorham sent the charges to the jury around 3:15 Wednesday afternoon. They spent the rest of the day in deliberation, but have not reached a verdict at this time. Court will reconvene Thursday morning.