matias

Murder defendant Bernandino Miguel Matias, 20, of Decatur, arrives at the Morgan County Courthouse on Wednesday afternoon for a youthful offender status hearing. He was 19 when he allegedly slashed the throat of his girlfriend, 16. [MICHAEL WETZEL/DECATUR DAILY]

A Decatur slaying suspect was so emotionally charged describing how he slashed the throat of his girlfriend in October 2019 that he broke the ink pen of the police investigator during questioning, according to testimony Wednesday in a Morgan County District Court hearing.

Judge Charles Elliott called the evidence presented during the hearing "horrifying facts" and denied youthful offender status to Bernandino Miguel Matias, 20.

Matias is charged with felony murder in the death of Tania Rico, 16, on Oct. 24, 2019, in a Southwest Decatur apartment they shared with her mother. Matias, who was 19 at the time of the slaying, remains in Morgan County Jail with bail set at $250,000.

Sean Mukaddam, the lead Decatur police investigator in the case, testified that after the alleged murder, Matias asked his brother to drive him to their uncle’s house in Knoxville, Tennessee. Mukaddam said the brother “reluctantly” drove Matias there at 4 a.m. before returning to Decatur.

Mukaddam said Matias told him during questioning that he tossed the murder weapon, a knife, in the Tennessee River when they were leaving Decatur for Tennessee.

The day after Rico was killed, Knox County, Tennessee, authorities placed Matias in custody and held him for Decatur police. Mukaddam was sent to interview Matias in Knoxville.

“He couldn’t understand the legal terms of the Miranda warning and a translator was brought in” for the two- to three-hour questioning, Mukaddam said.

During Wednesday's hearing, Matias sat next to an interpreter and his court-appointed attorney, Paul Holland. 

Mukaddam testified that the defendant became “visibly upset” in Knoxville while describing how he used a knife to cut Rico’s throat right to left and then left to right in the couple’s bedroom.

Mukaddam said a five-page written statement on the slaying was signed by Matias while in Tennessee. 

“I jumped on her back and pulled her hair with my left hand and cut her two more times in the side of the neck. She began making a snoring sound. I asked her, ‘Baby, are you OK?’ and took my things and left,” Matias said in a portion of the statement read by Mukaddam.

Mukaddam said Matias used his ink pen while he was reenacting the crime. “He was getting upset. His face was red. He broke my pen in the interview,” Mukaddam said about Matias.

According to another part of the statement, Matias was upset because Rico informed him she was breaking off their four-year relationship and “she loved another boy.”

Matias told Mukaddam in the interview that the night of the alleged murder he sneaked around outside to the back of the apartment and heard Rico talking with another man on the telephone. He said he went inside and confronted her and she denied it. She then began berating him, he said.

“She was insulting me and my family, said I had an ugly face,” Mukaddam said Matias told him. “She told me to leave. … I told her I loved her. … I quit school to pay for the apartment.”

An autopsy report showed Rico, a sophomore at Austin High School at the time of her death, died from a sharp force injury to her neck causing asphyxiation. She also had lacerations on her fingers and abrasions on her face, chest and back.

Mukaddam fielded questions from Morgan Assistant District Attorney Courtney Schellack and Holland for 30 minutes during the 45-minute hearing.

“This is not just a murder case,” Schellack told Elliott. “It was horrific. It was not a youthful indiscretion. It was done with a lot of anger and caused a lot of pain to the family.”

She said Matias knew what he was doing. “He became so enraged. … He killed her and fled to Tennessee. That is not a youthful indiscretion. That was an adult decision with adult consequences.”

Elliott set a trial date of Sept. 13, 2021, with a settlement date of Aug. 26.

“I’m disappointed in the ruling,” Holland said of the request for youthful offender status. “But it was no determination of guilt or innocence. I’m preparing for a trial in this case.”

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mike.wetzel@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2442. Twitter @DD_Wetzel.

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