Smithfield, N.C. — A Johnston County jury on Thursday found a Smithfield man guilty of first-degree murder in the June 2010 beating death of a 74-year-old woman.
Matthew Hagert Salentine was also found guilty of first-degree burglary and first-degree robbery in the death of Patricia Warren Stevens.
Stevens' son found her dead in her home, at 309 N. Third St., on June 24. Salentine, who lived about a block away at the time, was arrested the next day in connection with the crime.
The jury must now decide whether Salentine should face the death penalty in the case.
A sentencing hearing began Friday morning that included emotional testimony from Stevens' daughter, Mary Gordon Stevens, who talked about losing her mother.
"I don't cry every day like I used to, but my pain is still there," she said. "I lost my champion in life. I lost my best friend, and I lost my family. My mother was a good mother."
"It's impacted me immeasurably," she added. "The pain is inside, and it's something that I'm never going to get over."
Longtime family friends of Salentine testified on his behalf.
Paul Erickson said Salentine was like a son to him and that he thought it was out of character for him to rob or kill anyone.
Defense attorney Mike Howell admitted during the trial that Salentine is bi-polar and was a crack-cocaine addict at the time of Steven's death.
Salentine had been clean for five years, Howell said, but his life began to unravel in spring 2010, and he relapsed.
Howell said his client went to Stevens' home to steal money to support his addiction and beat her with a tire wrench when she caught him in the act.
"He's not the person we've known for so many years. This is totally out of character," Erickson's wife, Arlene Erickson said. "Hopefully, the jury will see or hear from the people what he really is like and grant him life, instead of the death penalty."
Salentine's father had no comment afterward, only saying, "Our thoughts and prayers are with the Stevens family."
The hearing is expected to continue next week.