An 83-year-old man with a long history with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office was ordered held without bond Wednesday on a second-degree murder charge after detectives say he shot and killed his best friend’s wife when she and her family came to get her late husband’s dog.
Eugene Matthews, whose home has signs warning trespassers he will shoot instead of calling 911, came out of the front door shooting a handgun, striking Rebecca Rawson, 65, according to the sheriff’s office. She later died at Manatee Memorial Hospital.
Matthews appeared before Circuit Judge Janette Dunnigan on Wednesday afternoon for his first appearance hearing, where he politely answered her questions.
“We would agree to no bond,” an assistant public defender said as Assistant State Attorney Art Brown approached the podium to address the court.
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Just before 7 p.m. Tuesday, Rawson, her brother-in-law and daughter had gone to Matthews’ home in the 12900 block of Pritchart Road in Parrish to get her husband’s dog, according to the sheriff’s office. Rawson’s husband, Matthews’ best friend, had died only a week prior.
Rawson’s brother-in-law, 62, knocked on Matthews’ front door, and Matthews’ girlfriend answered. The victim’s brother-in-law called for the dog, “Bart,” picked him up and began to walk away.
As he walked away, Matthews came out, armed with a handgun and started shooting, the family later told detectives with the Manatee Homicide Investigative Unit. Three shots were fired, as the Rawson family quickly tried to flee. One shot struck the windshield and hit Rebecca Rawson in the face.
Matthews’ family said he acted in self-defense, claiming that the Rawson family had come barreling through the gated and fenced entrance to the property and kicked down the front door. But the sheriff’s office said that account contradicts the eyewitness statements and the evidence from the scene.
“Everything that we got points to what they told us,” said sheriff’s office spokesman Dave Bristow. “Obviously, the State Attorney’s Office will be reviewing the case and they can act accordingly as far as if they want to keep the second-degree murder charge, change the charge or drop the charge. ... But we would have been remiss if we hadn’t made an arrest last night.”
When deputies arrived at the home moments after the shooting, Matthews was present and fairly cooperative, he added.
Matthews, a Korean War veteran, is no stranger to the sheriff’s office with numerous arrests in his past.
“He’s certainly well-known to anybody that has been around Manatee County for a while,” Bristow said. “We kind of have a long history with Eugene at the sheriff’s office dating back to (former Sheriff) Charlie Wells, but we haven’t heard much of Eugene for a long time up until last night.”
Matthews in 1991 filed a conspiracy and unlawful arrest lawsuit against the sheriff’s office, claiming he had been unjustly arrested in 1989 on weapons charges. A jury eventually awarded him $300,000, but that verdict was later thrown out because several jurors lied on their juror questionnaire forms.
In April 1999, Matthews and the sheriff’s office settled the case for $110,000, split between Matthews and his attorney.