In an “unusual” move, a Grand Forks district judge sentenced a 21-year-old man to life in prison without parole Wednesday after he was convicted in August of raping two college women at gunpoint.
In August, a 12-member jury found Antonio Raheem Matthews guilty of eight felonies including three counts of gross sexual imposition, a class AA felony.
Defense attorney David Ogren said it is "unusual" for life imprisonment to be imposed for a gross sexual imposition conviction.
"The only time I've seen that is with murder," he said during Matthews' sentencing hearing Wednesday.
Assistant State's Attorney Jason McCarthy said the sentence reflects the seriousness of the offense.
"The court obviously took this case as seriously as the state did in recognizing the heinous nature" of the crime, he said.
Before handing down the sentence, District Judge Sonja Clapp noted that under North Dakota law, gross sexual imposition is an offense on par with murder, both of which are classified as AA felonies. She also cited the impact the assaults had on the two victims.
She said that the victim impact statements “are very telling to how serious those incidents are. It has affected every aspect of their lives.”
The women have reported having night terrors, trouble sleeping, a fear of strangers and men, an aversion to intimacy and anxiety, McCarthy said.
One of the victims is not able to live in ground floor apartments, he said. The women were raped in their ground-floor apartment in the north end of Grand Forks last fall. The rapist broke in through their sliding patio door.
"The psychological trauma cannot be understated nor can it be undone," McCarthy said Wednesday, before making his recommendation that Matthews be sentenced to life.
Though victim impact statements are confidential documents, McCarthy did highlight pieces of them in court Wednesday. Not only the victims, but members of their families also wrote statements.
“Sometimes when I talk to (my daughter) about her plans, she speaks in the ‘before’ and in the ‘after,’” as in before the rape and after the rape, wrote one of the victim’s mothers.
McCarthy said the victims and their families are “relieved” by the sentence.
Matthews was also sentenced to pay the victims $6,354.98 in restitution to cover costs incurred as a result of the rape, including their stolen phones, new bedding, lost wages and a college course that one of the victims had to retake.
Don Newberry, the psychologist who conducted Matthews’ psychological examination, wrote in the presentencing investigation report that treatment is “not really an option” for Matthews because he will not admit to the crimes.
Matthews plans to appeal the verdict. The state Supreme Court will pass down a final decision.
After a week-long trial in August, the jury deliberated for 90 minutes before finding Matthews guilty of breaking into the victims' apartment, threatening them with a handgun, robbing them of their cell phones and raping them in turn.
Matthews fled the apartment only after one of the victims wrestled the gun out of his hands and discovered it was phony. Witnesses reported the girls were crawling and running through the halls of their apartment, banging on doors and screaming for help.
Matthews was also convicted of two counts of robbery, one count of terrorizing and two counts of felonious restraint.