It’s a story we have been covering since last year. ABC21 is Digging Deeper into a high-profile sex crime case out of Huntington.
Last year, police arrested Dr. John Mathew on multiple felony sex charges, including rape. Mathew pleaded guilty to lesser charges – two felony counts of sexual battery. Last month, Judge Thomas Hakes sentenced him to two years probation, 10 years on the sex offender registry. No jail time.
Now we have new details about what led up to that sentence. ABC21 has obtained letters from family members, doctors, clergy, patients and friends of the doctor – letters that may help explain why Dr. Mathew was spared spending his nights in a jail cell.
"Emotions run high when you’re talking about a doctor committing a sexual assault against both an employee and a patient – because she was both," said Huntington Chief Deputy Prosecutor Jamie Groves.
Groves says the courtroom was packed the morning of Mathew’s sentencing – a day that ended with no jail time for the doctor.
“The victim and the state felt very strongly that should not occur," said Groves.
But before the judge read out the punishment, before any witnesses took to the stand.
One hundred letters, some of them handwritten, were sent to the judge – 99 of them in support of the doctor.
Among them, a letter from his wife of 36 years, saying “I love him immensely but the last few months it has only deepened our relationship… and the free time has given me a chance to know him and love him more during this extreme trial.”
Many of the letters ask Judge Hakes to spare Mathew from incarceration, and even protect his license to practice medicine.
One letter from a fellow physician read, “…if Mathew is charged with a felony, it will be difficult or impossible for him to get his medical license back. That would be an unfortunate loss to the Huntington community.”
Few touched on the fact that Mathew pleaded guilty, admitting to two felony sex acts. Rather, many felt he had already suffered enough.
A retired pathologist and med school lector wrote this, “His [Mathew’s] current predicament with the law is very inexplicable and unexpected. I can come to face the situation only as his ‘bad karma’ … As for the victim, I firmly believe that forgiving is the most humane and Christian thing, which brings peace of mind and gets one closest to God.”
Many letters mentioned specific acts of generosity and community service: the doctor bought vans for the Catholic schools lunch program, offered discount physicals to student athletes who could not afford them, served on medical boards and helped sponsor scholarships.
"He’s done a lot of good for the community,” said Groves. “There’s no doubt about it. And some people only knew that aspect of him. I would wish that people would think a little more though, that it’s hard for the victim to sit in there and hear over and over again, people talk about how wonderful the person is who sexually assaulted them."
"What this doctor did is inexcusable,” says criminal defense attorney Randy Fisher. “He committed a terrible offense against another human being. But what the judge is doing in this case is giving him a second chance."
Fisher says the letters most certainly played a role in the judge’s decision.
“There were clear mitigating circumstances on this case,” said Fisher.
Those circumstances include no prior criminal record, Mathew giving up his medical license, and the opinion of a forensic psychologist that Mathew was unlikely to assault again. That psychologist was paid by Mathew to testify on his behalf.
“I think there were significant mitigating circumstances that were presented by defense counsel that show maybe he is a good person that made a terrible, terrible decision in committing this criminal offense,” says Fisher. “But there is enough redeeming quality, enough redeeming value, that the court saw at the sentencing hearing to give him a second chance. And certainly, on a case like this, this is his last chance."
Despite the stack of letters, prosecutor Groves noted an observation about the crowd in the courtroom.
"We had almost his entire staff – that was working at the time of the crime- sitting on our side of the courtroom," said Groves.|
And we noticed something odd about Mathew’s letters of support. Dozens of them repeated the same three sentences – almost word for word.
We asked Groves about the recurring phrase. He knows Mathew wrote letters to people personally, asking them to come in on his behalf.
"People want to believe that the person they chose to bring into their life,” says Groves. “Are not harmful, that they’re not dangerous. And if you chose that person, well then saying otherwise then becomes a critique of your own judgment."
At Mathew’s sentencing hearing, his attorney asked for the charges to be dropped to misdemeanors, as it would be easier for Mathew to regain his medical license without felonies on his record. That request was denied. Mathew has already contacted an Indianapolis lawyer for help in reinstating his license.