By Dominique Kato
SACRAMENTO – In a sentencing hearing here in Sacramento County Superior Court, Mathew Shaffer was sentenced to six years in state prison for the deadly shooting of a 29-year-old Rancho Cordova resident, visibly shaking the victim’s family, who wanted Shaffer to spend decades in prison.
Yet the judge who oversaw the case originally suggested it may just have been self-defense.
On April 17, 2020, Shaffer pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter with a firearm enhancement. The defense and the People stipulated that Shaffer should be sentenced to six years in state prison, which is the lowest term for both the manslaughter and firearm charge.
Before beginning the hearing, Judge Steven M. Gevercer discussed the probation report, noting that probation cited many facts that it “is my understanding from speaking (with) both counsel that these facts do not accurately represent the facts and circumstances that were relied upon by the People in reducing this matter from a homicide to a voluntary manslaughter.”
The judge asked Deputy District Attorney Omar Singh to provide additional facts, not in the probation report, that warranted this disposition.
Singh mentioned video footage that was seen at the preliminary hearing that showed the defendant and victim interacting as a result of a car accident. The video shows the victim making a U-turn and it appears the victim and defendant are discussing and having words that appear to be in a confrontational nature.
The footage appears to show the victim did not step out of the car fully. He opened the door and was seen reaching back, trying to grasp at something with his right hand. The video does not give a clear image, but according to defendant Shaffer he believed it was a firearm.
Later a hammer was found in the victim’s vehicle and it could’ve been what he was reaching for. Singh noted the victim may have been in fear for his safety. The third incident occurred with the victim being shot, but that was not captured on video.
Singh stated, “Based on those facts we believe it would be very difficult, if not impossible, based on that evidence to sustain a guilty verdict on PC 187.”
Judge Gevercer noted for the record that he reviewed the preliminary hearing transcript, which was presided over by another judge, so he could understand the nature of the facts and the nature of the disposition offered by the prosecution.
He read an excerpt from the previous judge because he felt it “shed a light on why the matter is being resolved in the way that it is.”
The other judge wrote, “I’ve been a judge for over 20 years now, and I would say that this has a very strong case for self-defense, it’s clear to the court the victim was quite aggressive and an argument could be made he was the aggressor.”
On the Zoom call family members of the victim shared upset facial expressions, and shook their heads in disagreement.
Gevercer continued to read the other judge’s comments: “It’s unfortunate and horrible that this young man was killed because ultimately he did not have a gun. It appears to the court that somebody could mistake what he had covered under a towel, could be similar to a barrel of a gun. If it goes to trial I think the People are going to have a very difficult case to be made beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Defense Attorney J.P. Brennan added that during the preliminary hearing the video was slowed down, and pictures were added, showing the court what looked like a rifle barrel sticking out.
Before sentencing, the judge referenced the letters he received on behalf of the defendant from his mother, sister, and friend. Further, the victim’s parents, his three sisters, and two other family members wrote letters to the judge as well.
In referencing a letter from the victim’s family member, Judge Gevercer said, “It articulated that she is grieving the mindless waste of a promising life, how his two children will experience loss for the rest of their lives, and the loss of his vibrant personality.”
The judge stated, “I think that’s a sentiment expressed by all the letters.”
The judge made sure the victim’s family members were heard and told them their words have been taken very seriously. The family members then proceeded to read their letters live via Zoom.
In the victim’s mother’s letter, read by a victim advocate, she said, “A piece of me died the day my son was murdered. I believe the defendant deserves the maximum sentence for taking my only son’s life.” She asked the court to consider her plea in order to give them some sort of justice.
All three of the victim’s sisters read their letters out loud, choking back tears. One sister stated, “The only way to win this fight is for Mathew Shaffer to get the maximum of 20 years for the murder of my brother. Shaffer shot him not once but six times, and left my brother lying in street like a piece of garbage.” She added, “I had seen men go to prison for less than that—my brother deserves justice.”
Concluding, she said, “If he only gets six years, he will be living in the same neighborhood where my nephews live, the children whose lives he destroyed.”
Another sister stated, “October 13, 2018, is the worst day of my life, that day was the day my brother was murdered, 29 years old.” She added, “Today for the rest of my life I will mourn the loss and the future that was stolen from him and the lifetime of potential memories from us.”
As the family statements concluded Judge Gevercer said, “It is very difficult to accept and live with a senseless killing. I understand that for the family this is not the full measure of justice they want.”
Mathew Shaffer was then sentenced to three years for voluntary manslaughter, and three years for the firearm enhancement, for a total of six years in state prison, the lowest possible term for each charge.
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