Parents testify about loss on first day of Raleigh couple's trial
Posted July 28, 2015
Updated July 30, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — As the trial began Tuesday for a Raleigh couple charged with supplying alcohol to minors at a June 2014 wedding party, jurors heard from the parents of the teen killed after he left that party and crashed his car.
Jonathon Gregory Taylor, 18, died when his vehicle hit a tree. On Tuesday, Taylor's friends told the court that they secretly drank liquor before the wedding and openly drank wine in front of adults once the party began.
The question before the jury is whether the hosts of the party, Dr. Charles Joseph Matthews, 59, and Kimberly Hunt Matthews, 52, are criminally responsible for providing that alcohol. Each faces four counts of aiding and abetting the consumption of alcohol by minors.
"This trial is about the Matthewses and what they did that night to allow this to happen," Wake County Assistant District Attorney Jason Waller said Tuesday. "Your responsibility is to figure out: Could they have put a stop to this?"
The Matthewses' attorney, Hart Miles, tried to distance the couple from the underage drinking during his opening statement. He called the teens who drank at the party "selfish, inconsiderate, reckless" and said the couple had little interaction with their younger guests.
Among those guests was Taylor, known as JT. Hart said it was Taylor's parents who found his crumpled car as they looked for their son when he failed to come home.
His mother, Carrie Taylor, was the first to take the witness stand.
"He was beautiful. He was all dressed up," she said, and his last words to her were "I love you, Mama."
Carrie Taylor and her husband, Greg, were not invited to the wedding but testified that they had no qualms about sending their son.
"We had no inclination to believe a wedding, that he wouldn't make it home alive," Greg Taylor told the court.
When he didn't, the Taylors first checked at the Matthews house, but JT had left.
They began calling classmates and sending text messages, Carrie Taylor said.
"I started getting fearful when I couldn't find him," Greg Taylor said.
They finally came upon a crash scene on Hunting Ridge Road.
"The whole road was blocked off with yellow tape," she said. "There were blinding blue lights."
"I'll never forget hearing Carrie saying, 'Jon's dead,'" Greg Taylor told the court. "That's a haunting thing to hear your wife say."
It would be about two hours before Kimberley Matthews called the Taylor house to check on JT and learned of the crash and his death.
According to investigators, the Matthewses' son, 19-year-old Thomas Blake Matthews, bought liquor at an ABC store and provided it to his friends.
Anna Ergish, who testified Tuesday afternoon, admitted to having been drunk at the party.
Another teen, Natalie Freeman, said the group agreed to drink together and spend the night.
Over time, she felt so impaired that she left the party and went to the basement, Freeman said. "I definitely knew that I had reached a pretty impaired level," she said.
Ultimately, Freeman called her father for a ride.
"They've always taught me to call them," she said. "They wanted me to be safe."
JT Taylor's mother testified that she had the same understanding with his son.
"I always said, 'Call me. I don't care what the circumstances are, I will pick you up,'" she said.
The Matthewes attorney Miles did not quibble with the facts of Jonathan Taylor's crash, but said investigators were too quick to target his clients.
"The Matthewses were targeted very early in the investigation," he said. "JT Taylor's death was a tragedy. The investigation was an emotional response to that tragedy."
Before the trial began, Miles moved to dismiss the charges against his clients on that argument, but a judge denied his request.
Thomas Matthews was charged along with his parents, but he pleaded guilty before their trial began. He will be sentenced after the trial of his parents.