A Benton City teen is facing 26 years behind bars after admitting Monday that he violently stabbed a 55-year-old man in a church parking lot.
Noah M. Matlack, 18, pleaded guilty in Benton County Superior Court to first-degree murder.
He told the court he acted with premeditated intent — and not in self-defense — when he attacked Michael Edwards late Sept. 8.
Matlack’s trial had been set for Sept. 2. Now he will return to court Aug. 28 to track the case, with a sentencing hearing expected to be set in September.
The victim’s brother was in court for the plea Monday.
Deputy Prosecutor Terry Bloor said James Edwards supports the sentencing recommendation of 26 years and eight months for Matlack.
“He was glad that the case was not going to go to trial, mainly because it would put a lot of emotional stress on surviving family members,” especially his mother, Bloor told the Herald.
Co-defendant Noel A. Gonzalez, 20, said in January that he knew his friend was planning to rob Michael Edwards and he went with Matlack to assist if needed. However, Gonzalez claimed he didn’t see the stabbing in the parking lot of the Assembly of God church in Benton City.
Matlack reportedly told someone several days before the killing that he felt like bashing in Edwards’ head and stabbing him in the throat.
Edwards was killed about 11:30 p.m. Sept. 8. He was dragged through the parking lot and behind a storage shed, where a neighbor found his body the following morning.
Edwards had 26 cuts and stab wounds on his face, chest, arms and back from a sharp instrument like a knife, a Seattle forensic pathologist testified earlier this year.
The victim tried to protect himself from the attack, based on wounds to Edwards’ left hand and upper right arm, but he died within minutes of having his throat slashed, Dr. Carl Wigren said.
Edwards’ nearby home was ransacked after his death and valuables, including rare coins, were taken from his pried-open safe, authorities said.
Matlack and Gonzalez stayed at the Benton City home of an acquaintance before leaving town Sept. 9.
They reportedly were trying to flee the Northwest, possibly to California, when they were picked up by a Stanfield, Ore., police officer. The teens had been trying to sell some rare coins at a truck stop.
When asked about the coins, Matlack told the officer he was given them by an older man in Benton City, court documents said.
But when the officer asked, “Did somebody die over this?” Matlack started crying and asked for an attorney, documents said.
On Monday, Judge Robert Swisher thoroughly reviewed with Matlack the rights he was giving up by pleading guilty.
Swisher found that the teen’s decision was “knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily made,” and said there was a factual basis for the plea.
The standard range for first-degree murder is from 20 years to 26 years and eight months.
Matlack, who turns 19 on Thursday, didn’t have any felony criminal history before this case.
Bloor said the charge does carry a mandatory minimum term of 20 years, which means Matlack will have to serve that time without any credit for good behavior.
Defense attorney Alexandria Sheridan said she may have one or two people to speak on Matlack’s behalf at sentencing.
Matlack remains held on $1 million bail in the Benton County jail until then.
Gonzalez is serving 13 years in prison for his earlier guilty pleas to second-degree murder and first-degree burglary. He is in the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, according to online records with the state Department of Corrections.
-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 509-582-1531; email@example.com; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer