Eugene F. Matthews’ run-ins with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office date back to the days of the Myakka Gold marijuana cultivation conspiracy case involving 28 people who were federally indicted and more than 100 individuals who were named un-indicted co-conspirators.
During that five-year investigation led by the sheriff’s office, fields in rural Myakka where the potent marijuana was being cultivated were often raided, and it was during one such raid in 1989 that Matthews was arrested.
But today, Matthews, now 83, again finds himself sitting in the Manatee County jail — charged with second-degree murder and being held without bond.
Just before 7 p.m. Tuesday, Rebecca Rawson, along with her brother-in-law and daughter, went to Matthews’ home in the 12900 block of Pritchart Road in Parrish to retrieve her late husband’s dog, according to the sheriff’s office. Rawson’s husband, who was described as Matthews’ best friend, died Jan. 4.
The brother-in-law, 62, knocked on Matthews’ front door, and Matthews’ girlfriend answered, the family told detectives with the Manatee Homicide Investigative Unit. Rawson’s brother-in-law called for the dog, “Bart,” picked him up and began to walk away, investigators said.
It was then they say Matthews appeared, walked out armed with a handgun and started shooting. Three shots were fired, and as the Rawson family tried to flee, their vehicle crashed into a wooden fence on the property, the sheriff’s office said. But one shot struck the windshield and hit Rebecca Rawson in the face.
Rawson was taken to Manatee Memorial Hospital, where she died an hour later. Matthews was arrested that evening and charged with second-degree murder.
In April 1991, Matthews began a decade-long lawsuit battle over his arrest tied to the Myakka Gold case. Matthews alleged that his arrest had been part of a conspiracy by officials to embarrass his son, Tim, who was then a candidate for mosquito control commissioner, according to court documents.
Matthews’ son, who long ago was estranged from his father, currently is a police officer with the Palmetto Police Department, police officials confirmed.
At about 11 a.m. on Friday the 13th in October 1989, six deputies including then-Lt. Brad Steube (the recently retired sheriff) began their patient watch over a field located on county property at the north end of Bear Bay Road off State Road 64. For about 90 minutes, they watched the field of crops — 5- to 6-foot-tall marijuana plants that were ripe for the picking, spokesman Dave Bristow told the Bradenton Herald at the time.
Then Eugene Matthews and William T. Barnett appeared. They were arrested by the deputies and charged with armed trespassing and carrying concealed firearms.
The charges against Matthews were dropped in January 1990, and he sued the sheriff’s office for conspiracy and unjust arrest. Years later, Matthews was awarded $300,000 by a jury, but a judge threw out that verdict after it was discovered that several jurors had lied on juror questionnaire forms.
Matthews, a Korean War veteran, later settled the case in mediation with then-Sheriff Charlie Wells in April 1999 for $110,000, split between Matthews and his attorney.
But as Matthews fought his battle in civil court, 26 of the indicted conspirators in the Myakka Gold case pleaded guilty to their charges in exchange for lighter sentences after they agreed to cooperate with the government’s investigation. Donald “Donnie” Clark was the only one of the co-conspirators to stand trial.
In June 1991, Clark was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for his role in the marijuana-cultivation conspiracy. But Clark was released from prison in 2001 after his sentence was commuted by then-outgoing President Bill Clinton.
Matthews had been a supporter of Clark, he told the Bradenton Herald in 2001, and alleged that they had been friends.
Clark told the Herald on Thursday that he never met Matthews until after he was released from prison. Clark said that Matthews, a Korean War veteran, had been “messed up” ever since he returned from the war.
“He’s kind of a mental case,” Clark said.
Clark recalled meeting Matthews at a gas station, and Matthews came running up to him with a machine gun. Clark said he told Matthews to get away from him, because he couldn’t be around anyone with a gun.
“He is just kind of weird,” Clark said.
In August 1991, then-Sheriff Wells reported receiving a call to his home, and the caller demanded that he not seek re-election, pay $100,000 and settle the false-arrest lawsuit Matthews filed earlier that year. In the alleged extortion attempt, the caller threatened to release a semi-nude photograph of Wells to the press.
Matthews and the attorney from his lawsuit, Stanley Marable, and then-Bradenton police officer Steve Abrams were investigated for the alleged extortion attempt. Criminal charges were never filed against the three, but Abrams was fired from his job with the Bradenton Police Department, and Marable was disciplined by the Florida Bar.