DA: 'Mathews' move to maximum security good, but no victory' - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Prosecutor calls Mathews' move to maximum security 'good, but no victory'

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CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Northwest Correctional Complex may have been a maximum security facility when it opened in Tiptonville more than 31 years ago.

But Jesse Ray Mathews joined more than 2300 inmates in medium security when the Tennessee Department of Corrections classified his threat risk, after he began serving his sentence for killing Chattanooga Police Sgt. Timothy Chapin during a shootout after a pawn shop robbery.

Medium security means moderately supervised; Mathews would have been free to take classes or vocational training, despite his plea deal ensuring he'd never go free.

"The judgment should have spoken for itself," says Hamilton County Assistant District Attorney General Neal Pinkston.

"Life without parole for murder plus an additional 25 years."

Mathews was wearing body armor when he opened fire on Sgt. Chapin and four other officers who responded to a robbery at US Money Pawn Shop at 5952 Brainerd Road April 2, 2011.

Mathews own wounds put him in intensive care, and later a wheelchair. But prosecutors say he recovered fully by November 2012, when he cut the plea deal that allowed him to dodge the death penalty had he been convicted at trial.

"We advised Corrections of the court pleading and of the guilty plea," Pinkston says. "Had they read media accounts, they would have known of his escape status in Colorado."

As of Tuesday afternoon, Corrections Commissioner Derrick Schofield had not responded, as to whether the classification team at the Morgan County Correctional Complex in Wartburg was aware that Mathews walked away from a halfway house in Colorado Springs, shortly after Valentine's Day 2011. He was on parole for a robbery conviction after serving eight years of a 20-year sentence.

Federal prosecutors assert that Mathews robbed a fast-food restaurant, a pawn shop and a pharmacy in Colorado Springs in the month prior

Mathews' mother Kathleen, his father Ray, his sister Rachel, and his sister's boyfriend, James Poteete are serving federal sentences, after pleading guilty to aiding his fugitive run from Colorado to North Carolina to Tennessee prior to Sgt. Chapin's murder.

"There is a nationwide database that they can access his record," Pinkston says. "They also would have had access to information regarding his behavior in other institutions."

Mathews was classified as 'high risk' and kept in isolation from the moment he entered the Hamilton County Jail, confirms sheriff's office spokeswoman Janice Atkinson.

Sheriff Jim Hammond denied Channel 3's request for an interview, or for information regarding Mathews' conduct while an inmate there.

"You'll have to talk to the DA's office or to Corrections," Atkinson says. "He's no longer our problem."

Nevertheless, Pinkston confirms that the stunt Mathews pulled in Hamilton County's custody, prompted his letter of concern to Corrections Commissioner Schofield.

Via email to Pinkston Tuesday morning, Schofield confirmed that he'd moved Mathews from Northwest Correctional to the West Tennessee State Penitentiary in Henning, about an hour's drive from Tiptonville.

"He's been moved to a maximum security unit," the email reads, "pending reclassification based on additional information provide by your office."

Pinkston wrote that Mathews told Hamilton County correctional officers that he'd inserted an ice pick into his rectum. That prompted a trip to a nearby hospital, where a search revealed no ice pick. Nevertheless, Pinkston wrote, an attempt to arm himself, or to use a hospital trip as an attempt to escape custody "put the public and law enforcement at grave risk."

"Would I call it (Mathews' transfer to maximum security) a victory," Pinkston asks. "I wouldn't use that kind of word. But it's good, in relationship to his past in Colorado and his convictions in Chattanooga."

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