Late yesterday evening, a Buchanan County jury found Steven Ray Matney, 33, formerly of Hazel Park, Michigan, guilty of First Degree Felony Murder, Robbery, and Use of a Weapon in the Commission of a Felony. The jury returned for a 8th day today to consider sentencing. After hearing additional evidence, the jury returned early this afternoon with a recommendation of a 27 year prison sentence.
According to Buchanan County Commonwealth’s Attorney Gerald Arrington, on June 18, 2016, a Buchanan County deputy performed a welfare check at the home of Ruby Gay Hurley in Vansant, Virginia. The deputy entered the home and found Hurley’s partially decomposed body.
Investigators with the Virginia State Police and Buchanan County Sheriff’s Office began processing the crime scene and canvassing the neighborhood for information. During the nine day trial, numerous officers testified concerning items of evidence that had been collected as well as details of their investigation. Of particular note was the discovery of a “shake and bake” meth bottle and blood-stained long sleeve t-shirt that witnesses described as being similar to one that Matney wore on the day that Hurley is believed to have been killed.
Tim McClure, a scientist at the Department of Forensic Science testified that the shirt contained numerous blood stains containing DNA matching Hurley. There was a stain located near the arm pit region that contained a mixture of Hurley’s blood as well as the DNA from another contributor. A partial profile was developed, and Matney could not be eliminated as the male contributor to that mixture, which McClure estimated to be present in 1 of 67,000 Caucasians.
Dr. Gail Suzuki, one of the state’s medical examiners, testified that Hurley had bruising on her head consistent with blunt force trauma and died from an 8 inch cut on her throat that severed the trachea and right carotid artery.
The Defense offered the testimony of two expert witnesses. Dr. McClintock, a DNA expert who teaches at Liberty University told the jury that there was potentially a third contributor to the DNA profile on the shirt, and estimated the odds of Matney having contributed the DNA was much less than 1 in 67,000.
Dr. Ronald Wright, a former forensic medical examiner, agreed with most of the state’s findings but criticized Suzuki’s failure to collect hairs found in Hurley’s hand during the autopsy.
During closing arguments, Arrington told jurors that Matney, a next door neighbor, had previously worked odd jobs for Hurley, and that one the day she was murdered, Hurley had invited him to eat a pizza with her. Based on witness testimony, Arrington explained that Matney came back from the Hurley home and went into his residence and told his girlfriend that he was going to hit her in the head and rob $300 and some Xanax. Witnesses observed Matney leave the residence wearing a black long sleeve shirt, black jeans and boots. According to Matney’s girlfriend, he had purple latex gloves in his pocket.
Arrington argued that during the robbery, Hurley recognized Matney and that he struck her in the head before cutting her throat while she was lying on the floor. Arrington noted that even the defense’s own expert had excitedly stated “that’s exactly how it happened” when Arrington demonstrated his reenactment of the attack.
Arrington explained to the jury that Matney was charged with felony murder, and that if the jury found that Matney had robbed Hurley, and that Hurley died during the commission of that robbery, regardless of whomever the defense argued the killer was, Matney would also be guilty of first degree murder.
When asked for comment, Arrington stated that “We could not have asked for a better jury. For 9 days, they listened closely to the evidence presented by each side, patiently endured the less than ideal conditions of a temporary courtroom, and studiously took notes throughout the trial. I am confident that this jury carefully weighed the evidence and made the correct decision to find him guilty of all charges.”
When asked about the sentence, Arrington responded “that many of the jurors were moved to tears during testimony and closing arguments regarding what an appropriate sentence should be for Mr. Matney. It was clear that two families had suffered due to his actions. I believe that this jury was mindful of his age and his unfortunate upbringing, and put a lot of weight in the defense’s argument that but for his mother, and co-defendant, Sheila Martin, Matney wouldn’t have been in Hurley’s trailer that day. Although I asked for a lengthier sentence, I am satisfied that this jury rendered a fair and just recommendation for Matney’s role in Hurley’s death. I hope and pray that this will bring some comfort and closure for Ruby Hurley’s family.”