Conviction stands in Westlake murder, Matthews stabbed man 78 times, left body in field

Published 9:20 am Thursday, December 29, 2022

The conviction and life sentence for a Lake Charles man who fatally stabbed a man at least 78 times and hid his body under multiple pallets in a Westlake field will stand.

Trevor A. Matthews received a life sentence without the benefit of parole, probation or suspension of sentence in the Nov. 14, 2019, murder of Ronnie Sutherland after a jury returned an unanimous guilty verdict in 2021.

In his appeal, Matthews claimed the state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt he was guilty of second-degree murder, the trial court erred in allowing the prosecution to introduce letters purportedly written by him without proper authentication, and his sentence was excessive.

Matthews said the prosecution relied on circumstantial evidence and failed to exclude every reasonable hypothesis of innocence in this case. He claimed he never denied being in the area when Sutherland died, but said his DNA was never found on the murder weapon.

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal denied Matthews claim, stating the state introduced a handwritten summary of events written by Matthews to a friend in which he admits meeting Sutherland at Circle K, going to his home, bringing Sutherland to the field and stabbing him.

In the summary, Matthews said Sutherland pulled a gun on him and in an effort to distract him he threw bottles of whiskey and cigarillos at Sutherland. When Sutherland looked away, Matthews said he stabbed him with a pocket knife.

“He didn’t let the gun go,” Matthews wrote. “His left knee buckled. I fell on top of him. He was still holding the gun. When we fell to the ground I stabbed him between the neck and the shoulder on his left side. I only remember the first stab in the neck.”

During Matthews’ trial, Calcasieu Coroner Dr. Terry Welke described the injuries to Sutherland as “overkill” and sad he was stabbed many more times than would have been necessary to kill him.

In denying the claim the state failed to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, the appeals judges said the jury’s “credibility determination cannot be second-guessed by this court.”

Matthews claimed at trial the letter was not written by him, but the trial court accepted handwriting samples submitted by the prosecution and overruled objections made by the defense. Matthews, in his appeal, claims he should receive a new trial. The appeals court ruled Matthews failed to follow the uniform code in filing his appeal and declined to consider the claim.

In his third claim, Matthews said his sentence was excessive. The court denied the motion, ruling the “mandatory sentence is not excessive especially given the heinous nature of the offense.”