Sixteen-year-old Matthew Liewald wiped tears from his eyes Thursday as his defense lawyers described how he had been abused by his father.
His father terrorized him and told him if he ever ran away hed be sorry he was ever born, defense attorney Susan Weigand told the judge.
Matthew was planning on running away in September 2011 when he shot and killed his 43-year-old father, Christian Liewald, and his 24-year-old stepmother, Cassie Buckaloo Liewald, at the familys home in southwest Mecklenburg County.
Christian Liewald was shot four times. Cassie Liewald was shot eight times.
On Thursday, Matthew was sentenced to at least 25 years in prison for the killings. He pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder.
A few minutes before the sentencing, defense attorney Robert Singagliese told the judge that Matthew feared his father.
He knew he couldnt live with him, Singagliese said. But he loved him. Hes going to have to forgive himself for what has happened.
Mecklenburg Assistant District Attorney Bill Bunting told the judge that the allegations of abuse were not taken lightly. The allegations were investigated, the prosecutor said, but there was no significant history of abuse.
Superior Court Judge Bob Bell sentenced Matthew to a minimum of 25 years and a maximum of 31 1/2 years in prison.
Rachael Picone, Cassie Liewalds half sister, told the Observer on Thursday she still loves Matthew.
Matthew is my nephew. I love him. What happened doesnt change the way I feel about him. He was my nephew before this happened. Hes my nephew now.
Picone, 25, said she and other family members think Matthews prison sentence is too long.
I wish he didnt have to be locked away for so long, she said. I dont want him sitting in jail as long as he has to.
Around 2 a.m. on Sept. 26, 2011, Matthew called 911 and told a dispatcher hed shot his father and stepmother, according to prosecutors. When police arrived at the teenagers home on Buxton Drive near Pineville, they found the couple dead.
During an interview after the killings, Matthew, who was 15 at the time, told a homicide detective he was afraid of his father, who he said had assaulted him in the past. He said that he had feared his father, as long as I can remember.
Matthew described how his father would sometimes push him or smack him in the back of the head. He recalled one time when his dad knocked him out of a chair onto the floor and began choking him.
He always told me if I ever ran away, hed find me, Matthew said.
The teenager told the detective that he felt he had to shoot his dad in order to run away.
Matthews statement to the detective was played during a probable cause hearing in October 2011. Heres what the teenager said happened on the night of the killings:
Matthew recalled how after his father and stepmother left home for a while that night, he packed a book bag with clothes, gathered guns and taped a knife to his tactical vest.
Then he watched the monitor of his fathers surveillance system until he saw the headlights of an approaching vehicle. Matthew said he started walking toward the door and opened fire as he turned the corner.
He said he had planned to drive south, maybe eventually to Mexico. Instead, he ran into nearby woods and eventually called 911.
He said he didnt have any idea how he was going to get away. I didnt have any money, he said. I think I had a dollar or two in my wallet.
The detective asked Matthew if he realized what hed done was wrong. Matthew said after the smoke cleared and he saw his father and stepmother, he started to break down.
Matthew was originally charged with two counts of first-degree murder a crime punishable by life in prison.
Following Matthews sentencing, Bunting, the assistant DA, told reporters why prosecutors agreed to let the teenager plead guilty to second-degree murder.
This was a tough case for everybody , the prosecutor said.
I didnt want Matthew to spend his life in prison.
Bunting said he would not say that Matthew had an ideal childhood. But the prosecutor said Department of Social Services never found it appropriate to remove Matthew from the family home.
Nobody could give any specific instances of abuse, Bunting said. Theres no proof that he was abused.
The plea agreement called for Matthew to spend at least 25 years behind bars.
Bunting said Matthews family didnt want the teenager to get such a long sentence, while some of Cassie Liewalds family wanted a harsher punishment.
Prosecutors, Bunting said, have an obligation to do the right thing.
Ultimately, our responsibility is greater than to the family of any one victim, Bunting said. Our responsibility is to the people of Mecklenburg County and to the safety of our community.
Matthew will get out of prison in 25 years and will have a significant portion of his life in front of him.
Wayne Lynch, a pastor at the Methodist church where Matthew and his parents attended, was at Matthews sentencing hearing.
Everybody loses here, Lynch told reporters. Everybody was the victim in this case. Its a very, very sad day. Observer staff researchers Maria David and Marion Paynter contributed