Prosecutor describes murder defendant as maniac, stalker

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NEW BOSTON, Texas: A Bowie County prosecutor described a man accused of beating and strangling his former girlfriend to death in 2013 as a maniac and a stalker in opening statements Wednesday.

Toddrick Eugene Matthews, 40, is accused of murder in the Sept. 8, 2013, death of Sonjha Banks, 37. Testimony began Wednesday morning following opening statements from First Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp and Longview, Texas, lawyer Bryan Owens.

Crisp described Matthews as a violent man who controlled Banks, isolated her from family and friends and eventually strangled her to death in his Hooks, Texas, trailer home.

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“It takes several minutes to choke the life out of somebody. He had several minutes to change his mind but he kept going,” Crisp said.

Owens focused on the length of time between Banks’ death and Matthews indictment in May of last year.

“Justice delayed is justice denied,” Owens said. “What’s changed is the witness statements.”

Among the first witnesses to testify for the state Wednesday morning was Toddrick Matthews’ stepbrother, George Matthews. George Matthews testified that sometime late on the evening of Sept. 8, 2013, Toddrick Matthews came to his house, handed him a pistol and asked him to go for a ride.

George Matthews testified under questioning from Crisp that as he headed toward Toddrick Matthews’ mother’s house in Ashdown, Ark., Toddrick Matthews confided in him that he’d killed Banks.

“He said, ‘I knew she was gone when s**t started coming out of her ass,'” George Matthews testified.

George Matthews said he stayed in Toddrick Matthews’ truck while Toddrick Matthews made several trips from the truck into his mother’s house with items from his truck.

George Matthews testified that he and his family feel so intimidated by members of Toddrick Matthews’ family that they have been living in a motel, away from their own residence. Owens questioned George Matthews about why he did not tell investigators the same account earlier in the case that he testified to Wednesday.

Banks’ cousin, Karen Henderson, testified that Banks’ usual happy demeanor became clouded after she started dating Toddrick Matthews. Henderson said Banks often asked her to stay with her in the beauty salon where Banks worked as a hair dresser because she was worried Toddrick Matthews might show up. Henderson said Banks was planning on ending her relationship with Toddrick Matthews.

Banks’ friend, Kim Slaughter, testified that she saw bruises on Banks’ neck in August 2013. Slaughter testified that Toddrick Matthews would call Banks over and over while she was working and often showed up at her place of business.

Alice Runnels, Banks’ mother, testified that she and Banks went with Toddrick Matthews in his truck to a church musical on the afternoon of Sept. 8, 2013. Runnels said she thought it odd that after Toddrick Matthews drove back to the house where she and Banks lived, that Banks never got out of the truck after Runnels got out, walked inside and left the door open for her daughter.

Runnels said it was unusual for Banks not to return home to take care of her dog and that she got no answer when she tried to call her. Runnels said she went to sleep but was woken up when she received a call from Toddrick Matthews’ sister telling her that Toddrick Matthews wanted her to know he couldn’f find Banks.

Runnels said she was so alarmed by the call that she got her brother to drive her to Toddrick Matthews’ trailer in Hooks, Texas. Runnels said that when she arrived, Toddrick Matthews was sitting on the ground by his truck and police were there.

LifeNet emergency dispatcher Julie Pate testifed that she was on duty when a 911 call was routed to her for service at approximately 2 a.m. Sept. 9, 2013. In a recording of the call played for the jury, Matthews initially reports coming home to find his house on fire. More than a minute passes before Matthews mentions finding his girlfriend unresponsive in a tub full of water and the call is routed to Pate.

By the time police and fire personnel arrived on scene, Matthews had brought Banks’ naked body outside in the front yard. Pate instructed Matthews on CPR while he waited for first responders.

After LifeNet arrived, Banks was pronounced dead. Bowie County Justice of the Peace Todd Fore, who was serving as a lieutenant for the Bowie County Sheriff’s Office when Banks was killed, testified that he entered the trailer to make sure no other people needing help were inside. Fore said he immediately noticed smoke and a strong chemical odor in the air.

Fore said he blew out three lit candles which were burning in the home and that he noticed the bathtub was filled with red or pink colored water. Fore said he also noted that there were numerous bottles of different types of cleaning products on the bathroom counter and a bottle of rubbing alcohol on the floor inside the front door.

Fire investigator Scottie Taylor testified that there were marks on the floors in the bedroom and bathroom consistent with someone pouring a flammable liquid on them and igniting them. Taylor said it appeared to an intentionally set fire that extinguished itself as it consumed the oxygen in the trailer.

Taylor testified that the closet in the master bedroom appeared to have been emptied before an attempt was made to set the trailer on fire. A photograph showed that the closet was mostly empty and Taylor testified there were coat hangers found on the floor near the front door in the trailer.

Arson investigator Eric Steinberg testified that three samples collected from the trailer in the burned areas showed the presence of gasoline.

Medical Examiner William McClain testified that Banks died of asphyxia and blunt force trauma. Photos taken at Banks’ autopsy showed she had swelling around both eyes and on her forehead and a fresh cut above her left eyebrow. Runnels testified that the bruising and swelling on Banks’ face was not there earlier in the day.

Testimony is expected to continue Thursday morning at the Bowie County courthouse in New Boston. Toddrick Matthews is facing 15 to 99 years or life in prison if found guilty.

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