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Prosecutor allows secret tape in Mateu trial

Posted: Sunday, April 13, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) -- A state prosecutor on Friday attempted to link Jose ''Che'' Mateu to a rifle that may have killed his father, then surprised the court by agreeing to let jurors hear an informant's recording of Mateu rejecting an offer to get rid of the weapon.

Mateu, 20, is charged with first-degree murder and tampering with evidence in the January 2000 shooting of his father, Jose R. Mateu, in Ketchikan.

Juneau District Attorney Richard Svobodny spent much of Friday questioning the Anchorage officer in charge of the crime scene.

Retired Trooper Martin Patterson, a former sergeant with the Criminal Investigations Bureau Major Crimes Unit, said investigators found a rifle in ocean water off a bluff across the street from the Mateu home.

Patterson said he discovered tracks in the snow leading through the woods to the bluff. He also identified two pictures of footprints in snow ''found at the end of that path,'' Patterson said. He said troopers attempted to make a cast of one of the footprints, but ''it didn't work. The snow was too soft.''

In his opening statement, Svobodny said testimony from Mateu's girlfriend would indicate he climbed over a guardrail and walked in the area of the path sometime after the elder Mateu had been shot.

Patterson testified that he threw something into the ocean to judge how far out an item thrown from the bluff might land. A diver retrieved a rifle from the water off the bluff area Jan. 16.

At the end of the path, Patterson testified, there was an indentation in the snow, indicating something had been laid down there. During opening statements, the prosecution said the indentation matched Mateu's backpack.

Patterson said the recovered rifle had in it a spent .22-caliber shell casing, the same caliber bullet troopers claim was used to shoot the elder Mateu.

Patterson said the spent shell casing and another shell casing found on the defendant's bedroom floor were sent to the state crime lab for comparison.

Svobodny also questioned Patterson about a tape recording made by troopers of conversation between an undercover agent and Che Mateu. In the recording, Mateu is asked by the undercover agent, a family acquaintance, whether he wanted the agent to dispose of the recovered rifle.

Mateu was recorded saying the weapon should not be disposed of and that the gun could help the investigators find his fathers killer.

The tape had been the source of heated debate between the defense and the prosecution outside the presence of the jury. Svobodny had argued that the tape should not be admissible under the state's hearsay laws.

Just before the trial, Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins ruled that a portion of the tape would be played for jurors and on Friday Collins cautioned Svobodny that his questions to Patterson could ''open the door'' for the entire tape being played for the sake of completeness.

Svobodny then announced that he would play the tape in its entirety.

On the tape, Lawrence Stewart, at the time employed by the U.S. Postal Service, told Mateu he overheard troopers saying that they found the murder weapon and that they planned to send it in for ballistics testing. Stewart then offers to ''lose the box.''

''All I can do is help you,'' he said.

Many of Mateu's responses are muddled, but he could be heard saying: ''I'm good, man. I'm good.''

Stewart then asked Mateu if he killed his father.

''If you did it and had a reason, just tell me,'' Stewart said.

''I didn't do anything, man,'' Mateu responded.

Stewart said that rumors were flying around Ketchikan that Mateu killed his father.

''I can't stand the way people look at me,'' Mateu replied.

The trial is Mateu's third. Two previous trials ended with hung juries.

The trial is to resume Monday.



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