Published March 16. 2013 4:00AM Updated March 16. 2013 5:07PM
Murder victim Matthew Chew's family walked out of New London Superior Court Friday with a plastic bag containing some of his possessions and a great feeling of relief.
They had endured a week of sentencing hearings for five of the six young men who had taken part in the stabbing death of their 25-year-old son and brother on Oct. 29, 2010. All in all, they said, the weeklong sentencing marathon had not been a healing experience. But they were glad it was over.
"You don't come out of each day thinking, yes, another one has been sent to prison," Marilyn Chew said. "There are no winners."
The lead aggressor, Idris Elahi, had pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced in May 2012 to 35 years in prison.
The remaining five defendants pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of first-degree manslaughter and were sentenced on consecutive days this week to eight or 15 years in prison, depending on whether they cooperated with the prosecution. Judge Susan B. Handy had scheduled the hearings for the same week so that the victim's parents, who live out of town, could be present.
Marilyn and Richard Chew came from Arcadia, Calif., with a 10-minute photo montage depicting their son's life, from infancy to his last months, that they asked State's Attorney's Inspector Tim Pitkin to play in court each day. The video, they said, was intended to show the young men who had viciously attacked Matthew that he was not just a random victim, but a person with a life and a family.
The parents had prepared heart-rending victim impact statements describing their recurring thoughts of his violent death and their never-ending grief. The victim's siblings, Melinda "Mindy" Fowler and Mike Chew, had arranged for time away from their work and families so they could be there on behalf of their brother.
Every day, Richard Chew wore a necktie imprinted with his son's artwork, made by Matt's girlfriend, Lindsay Krodel, in the days after the murder. Marilyn Chew carried in her purse four touching letters that people had written to her following her son's death.
Most days the Chews sat in the front rows of the left side of the courtroom, behind the desk of prosecutor Stephen M. Carney. Each day they had an entourage of supporters, some of them friends of Matthew's and some new acquaintances from the local chapter of the Survivors of Homicide support group.
On Monday, 19-year-old Rahshad Perry, who lost his brother, Rahmel, to murder just months before he took part in Chew's killing, looked over his left shoulder and offered a sputtering apology to the Chews. His mother, Viola Cook, told the family she knew what they were going through, because her family is going through the same thing.
Perry was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
After court that day, the Chews went to the Huntington Street office of Attorney Chester Fairlie, who runs the local chapter of Survivors of Homicide. The survivors' group presented the family with peace lilies and a painting of a dove, according to Fairlie, who said they had a "meaningful discussion."
"We just were so honored that they were willing to spend time with us and we are hopeful that the things we talked about were helpful," Fairlie said.
On Tuesday, 21-year-old Brian Rabell, who had been accepted by the U.S. Marine Corps before his arrest and who had expressed his remorse from the beginning, wore rosary beads to his sentencing and told the Chew family he would get "back on the path to righteousness" when he is released from prison. He had cooperated with the investigation and was sentenced to eight years.
Marilyn Chew said she hopes Rabell serves all of his eight-year sentence, but added that she recognized his potential to be a better person.
"There's evil and there's stupid, and I think Brian Rabell, of all the six, he made stupid choices that night," she said. "Unfortunately, he made several stupid choices and that's why I can't forgive him yet."
On Wednesday, 20-year-old Tyree Bundy, who others said had stood in the street laughing during the attack on Chew, was sentenced to eight years in prison. Bundy did not speak, but his mother, Elga David, broke down during the airing of the photo display and decided she wanted to stand up and apologize, "from one mother to another." She said she couldn't imagine what it was like to lose a son, since she could not even handle her own son's sentencing.
Judge Handy thanked the Chew family each day and acknowledged the defendants' families were suffering also. On Wednesday, the judge told the Chew family she realized it was getting more difficult for them each day.
Thursday's sentencing of 19-year-old Matias Perry to 15 years in prison left the family looking more devastated than ever. Perry had stopped Matthew Chew on the street as he walked home from work and asked him for a lighter. When Chew reached into his pocket, Perry threw the first punch before the others jumped in.
Perry's attorney, Peter E. Scillieri, addressed the court for about 45 minutes on a wide range of topics, including the inability of adolescents to make good decisions and his objection to the state's use of the word "hunt" to describe the teens' activity that night.
In a highly unusual move, Scillieri had met with Chew's parents before the sentencing to explain his argument. But members of the family still came away from the hearing red-faced, in tears and highly agitated. They said they found the presentation inappropriate.
"We felt kind of blindsided," Richard Chew said Friday. "He told us he'd be talking about the client."
Friday's sentencing went better. Nineteen-year-old Marquis Singleton and his parents stood up, faced the Chew family, and offered apologies. Defense attorney Joseph Elder quoted the line "Any man's death diminishes me" from John Donne's poem, "No Man is an Island."
"When a person dies, a little part of all of us dies," Elder said. "That's true with regard to Matthew."
Singleton was sentenced to eight years in prison.
Carney, the prosecutor, had tailored his daily sentencing remarks to each defendant, but spoke consistently of the crime's impact on the City of New London. In the wake of the random killing, people said they were afraid to come to the city. Carney said also that Chew, a hard-working young pizza cook, DJ and artist, had been everything New London aspires to be.
Carney, too, was relieved when the last sentencing was over. "It was a sad chapter in New London's history," he said Friday evening. "It was an honor to meet Matthew's family. They showed such dignity this week while they struggled with the five sentencings."
The Chews said the court-based victim advocate, Beth Ann Hess, had been there for them "every step of the way" as the case progressed through the court system, getting them answers and listening to their concerns. She had sat with them in court all week, orchestrating their presentations and supplying tissues when needed.
The family was comforted also by New London police Detectives Matthew Galante and Richard Curcuro, who greeted them cordially each day before listening to the hearings from a back row of the courtroom. The Chews said they had been hurt by an early press release from police administrators saying that the murder was drug-related and that the community was not at risk.
But the family said the detectives, especially Galante, had "bent over backwards" to keep them informed.
"Matt Galante called us every Friday to let us know exactly what was going on," Marilyn Chew said. "He called Rick. Then he called me. Then he called Mike. Then he called Mindy. He called us at the one-year anniversary. He called us periodically afterwards just to find out how we were doing."
After court adjourned on Friday, the Chews collected the plastic bag containing the tan hat that Matthew was wearing when he died and a few other personal items that had been held by police as evidence.
They gave court staff and others mugs depicting their son's artwork on one side and the Hindu "Om" symbol on the other. They hugged some of the people they had come to know and like as a result of the unthinkable tragedy that changed their lives.
Then they walked out of the courthouse as a unit, talking about where they might go to eat.