A Ruxton woman convicted of plotting to kill her husband and stepson received a life sentence yesterday from a Baltimore County judge who rejected her claim of spousal abuse and attributed her crime to greed.
Before the sentencing, 51-year-old Clara Darlene Mathews wept and said she was sorry but added, "I did what I did to save my own life. . . . You don't have to believe me, but it is the truth. I ask you to have an understanding heart, because I know in my heart I am not a bad person."
Circuit Judge James T. Smith Jr. told Mathews: "I listened to the testimony. I don't believe you at all. . . . I am just absolutely convinced that it was a matter of greed."
He rejected her defense argument that her husband, Henry Burke Mathews, had beaten and raped her. Judge Smith said the tactic had "done a disservice to spouses that are in abusive situations."
Last month, a Baltimore County jury took less than an hour to reject Mathews' story of spousal abuse and find her guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and three counts of solicitation to have Mr. Mathews, 69, and his son, William, killed Aug. 10.
According to testimony, Darlene Mathews paid a friend of her son to find someone to kill her husband, but the youth went to police instead. State Police Tfc. George Forsythe posed as the killer, recorded an agreement with Mathews and accepted a payment for the proposed hit.
In asking for the life sentence, Assistant State's Attorney Kim Detrick called Mathews "a very dangerous individual." From the taped evidence, she recalled one passage in which Mathews had the "nerve to ask George Forsythe not to make too much of a mess in her house when he killed Burke Mathews because she didn't feel like cleaning it up."
Mathews will have to serve about 17 years before her first parole eligibility, prosecutors said.
Defense attorney Richard Karceski spoke at length, saying Mathews "through the great majority of her 51 years on earth has been well-liked, has been a good person. . . . It just doesn't make any sense, and one asks why and how this could come about?"
The couple's 1988 marriage "perhaps was as oil is to vinegar -- and this lady's life changed," he said.
"I ask that you judge her in the same light, under the same microscope as is used in all other cases that come before this court and other courts," he said.
Although Judge Smith's sentence was within state guidelines, Mr. Karceski noted other Baltimore County "sentences that have not even approached in any remote fashion what the guidelines called for."