RALEIGH, N.C. — A North Carolina man who had claimed that cold medicine had caused him to stab his wife to death while sleeping has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, admitting that he had been involved in drugs and alcohol, and that the “darkness consumed” him until it made him “blind” to the path he was taking.
“I hope that my life will be an example of the consequences for those who think that drinking, drugs and carelessness will only affect themselves and no one else,” Matthew Phelps, 30, told a Wake County court on Friday, looking drastically different from his photographs prior to the incident.
“Be not deceived; God is not mocked. Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap,” he said, quoting from Galatians 6:7.
As previously reported, according to his Facebook page, Phelps had studied missions and evangelism at Clear Creek Baptist Bible College in Pineville, Kentucky. His wife, Lauren, served as a Sunday school teacher at the church they attended. Phelps reportedly had aspirations to become a pastor.
However, last September, he phoned 911 in the middle of the night, claiming that he had just awakened from a dream and found his wife stabbed to death.
“I have blood all over me and there’s a bloody knife on the bed. I think I did it. I can’t believe this,” Phelps said. “I took more medicine than I should have. I took Coricidin. I know it can make you feel good, so—a lot of times I can’t sleep.”
He initially pleaded not guilty to murder, but on Friday, Phelps accepted a plea deal offered by prosecutors that would result in life in prison without parole, as opposed to the pursuit of the death penalty.
Phelps outlined in court that he had been living in darkness, and that he was blind to where the path was leading. He scanned the courtroom, which was filled with Lauren’s family, friends and fellow church members, before delivering his apology.
“I am sorry that I took away Lauren’s life—a life that was deeply connected to so many people: her family, her friends, her church, her co-workers, and especially her nephews,” he said. “And though I am the least of these, I took her away from myself.”
“This was a senseless, mindless act, and I regret every step that led me in that direction,” Phelps stated. “Lauren was loving, caring, giving, hard-working, smart, fun, fashionable and loyal. She was a daughter, a sister, a friend, a leader, a teacher, an aunt.”
He said that he feels like a “monster” in reflecting upon what he had done, stating that he had been “a part of the darkness we don’t speak of.”
“That darkness consumed me until I was blind to the path I had taken, and deaf to my own cries for help,” Phelps told those gathered. “That darkness caused me to do the unimaginable: to take a life that was not mine to take.”
Wake County Assistant District Attorney Kristen Fetter had argued in court that Phelps had an Instagram account under the alias “Marty Radical,” in which he posted images from the movie “American Psycho,” a film about an investment banker who “lives a second life as a gruesome serial killer.”
She also stated that she believed the couple had been arguing over finances, and investigators found that $1,200 had been spent on iTunes and the video game software Xbox.
According to WRAL-TV, defense attorney Joe Cheshire told the court that Phelps had a difficult background, with slasher movies being played in his home from his childhood, and his friends taught him as a teen how to abuse drugs and cold medicine. He said that Phelps had additionally been struggling with depression.
Both Cheshire and Phelps acknowledged that these details, however, do not excuse his actions.
“No length of time will ease my inner sorrow or relieve me of the memory of such a godless act, which my hands—which I thought incapable of doing—have committed,” Phelps lamented. “And I will have to live the rest of my life with these hands as a constant reminder.”
He also mourned that he has hurt the people that were most important in his life.
“I am sorry to all those people,” Phelps said. “And even though I will never be able to make up for all the loss and the grief that I have caused all of you, I hope that you will begin to see that I am doing everything that I can from here to show you that I’m sorry.”
In his book “Holiness,” the late Anglican preacher J.C. Ryle once exhorted, “I fear we do not sufficiently realize the extreme subtlety of our soul’s disease. We are too apt to forget that temptation to sin will rarely present itself to us in its true colors, saying, ‘I am your deadly enemy, and I want to ruin you forever in Hell.’”
“Oh, no. Sin comes to us, like Judas, with a kiss, and like Joab, with an outstretched hand and flattering words. … Let us then watch and pray lest we fall into temptation. We may give wickedness smooth names, but we cannot alter its nature and character in the sight of God. Let us remember St. Paul’s words, ‘Exhort one another daily, lest any be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.’”
Charles Spurgeon, one of the most influential Baptist preachers in history, also warned, “We are all subject to human passions, and this wretched flesh of ours is too easily fascinated by those who would pander to its indulgences. In seconds, the soul may be led into captivity. Watch unto prayer, especially in these evil days.”
“Cry, ‘Lead us not into temptation,’ and if the prayer is sincere, you will also keep far from doubtful places. Make a covenant with your eyes that you will not look upon that which pollutes, and stop your ears from hearing about it. Watch your lips lest they spread corruption when speaking of sin. I am not afraid that you will step directly into gross sin, but that you may take a very small step on the road that leads to it. Then it will only be a matter of time.”