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Prosecutor: 'Buck stopped' with Matthews couple

Posted July 30, 2015 8:58 a.m. EDT
Updated July 30, 2015 6:45 p.m. EDT

— The jury began deliberation Thursday afternoon to decide whether Dr. Charles and Kimberly Matthews will be charged with supplying alcohol to minors at a June 2014 wedding.

Wake County Assistant District Attorney Jason Waller said in his closing arguments on Thursday that the case against the Matthewses goes beyond Jonathan "JT" Taylor, 18, who lost his life in a drunk driving crash after leaving their home.

Waller said the case is ultimately about whether or not adults who serve alcohol in their home with teenagers present are responsible for keeping them safe.

"The buck stopped with them. It was their house, it was their wedding, it was their alcohol," said Waller. "They didn't do anything to prevent these kids from drinking."

Testimony from witnesses and photographs showed that the teens drank in plain view of adults, including the Matthewses, who declined to testify.

Witnesses testified Taylor was seen speaking to Charles Matthews late in the party.

"You can't tell me he can't see when he's sitting five feet away from them, that he doesn't know what's going on," said Waller. "This is extreme intoxication, this is someone dying, this is two ladies ending up in a basement passed out and sick."

In his closing argument, defense attorney Hart Miles pointed out that it is legal to serve alcohol in a home and that there was no indication that the couple told bartenders at the event to serve alcohol to minors. In addition, Hart said it was the responsibility of the bartenders to check identification before serving alcohol.

He also noted that, in many respects, 18-year-olds are considered young adults and questioned whether parents should be held responsible for their decisions.

He said in looking through 4,000 photos from the event, police did not find a picture that showed the couple alongside teenagers with wine.

"Did you hear the whole story or was it cherry picked to create a narrative that just doesn't hold water?" Miles asked. "Is it criminal accountability for failing to save someone from their own adult choices?

"I submit to you they are not criminals, and they should not be held criminally accountable for what happened," he said.

Before closing arguments began, Miles made another motion to dismiss the case against the couple, stating that his clients were effectively charged with eight crimes instead of four. He said during the January indictment, the grand jury did not specify if the couple was being indicted on charges of aiding or charges of abetting or both. Miles also submitted a separate motion for dismissal based on insufficient evidence. Superior Court Judge Osmond Smith denied both motions.

On Thursday morning, jurors heard testimony from Sgt. Sean Hoolan, who explained that he spoke to Brian Johnson, a yoga instructor at the wedding who was likely the last person to see Taylor alive. According to Hoolan, Taylor spoke to Johnson in the library. In addition to appearing inebriated, Taylor also told Johnson that he was high on marijuana. No evidence of the drug was found during the investigation, but neither did authorities screen Taylor's body for controlled substances after his death, Hoolan said.

Hoolan explained that the decision to charge Charles and Kimberly Matthews came after photos of the event were shown to him by the bride and groom, Sarah and Thad Lawrence. Hoolan explained that police could not prove that any of the people from the catering service served alcohol to the minors, and none of the bartenders were charged. James Wilson, the ABC store clerk who sold Jack Daniels to the Matthewses son, Thomas, was cited but not arrested.

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.

The Matthewses are also facing a civil lawsuit filed against them by Jonathan Taylor's family.