Nor should we be surprised that the June 2004 interrogation, conducted without the benefit of counsel, extracted a confession that would lead to Matthew’s conviction as a sexual offender — and a decade of unalloyed
misery for his family.
To be as specific as decorum permits, Matthew made a disparaging comment about the size of the younger boy’s male member while the two of them were showering and getting dressed. Vulgar and offensive remarks of that kind are commonplace in junior high locker rooms. It’s reasonable to believe that at some point in their lives the detectives who interrogated Matthew had indulged in off-color banter of that variety.
Matthew maintained that he never said or did anything to suggest that he was seeking to gratify a sexual impulse. While his behavior may have been considered deplorable, there was no evidence that it was predatory. However, no other word properly describes the conduct of the police interrogators. They had a criminal complaint and a compliant suspect – not a juvenile, but what the law in some jurisdictions considers a “vulnerable adult” – who didn’t understand what his captors intended to do with him.
In addition to various learning disabilities and developmental delays, Matthew suffered from epilepsy and experienced Grand Mal seizures since the age of three. He was also diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome.
Matthew Cherry in his late 20s.
An examination by Dr. William Ondo at the Baylor College of Medicine found that Matthew had been afflicted with “progressive tics” – speech, muscular, and behavioral – “for 11 years” before his arrest.
Those eccentricities would become more pronounced in stressful situations, and were known to include “outbursts of phrases that don’t make sense or random thoughts that make others uncomfortable,” Dr. Ondo observed. Assuming that the doctor was correct in his analysis, Matthew’s condition would explain why he would blurt out a puzzling and offensive remark about another young man’s private anatomy.
No allegation was ever made that he touched the other young man in any way, or that his adolescent remark could be construed as a sexual overture. A court-ordered examination conducted in May 2005 by Dr. Edward Gripon, a widely respected psychiatrist, concluded that although Matthew was “emotionally immature [and] subject to poor judgment,” he “does not have a sexual orientation … toward pedophilia” and “does not pose any significant threat toward children.”
As a result of lengthy and detailed examination, both Dr. Gripon and licensed psychotherapist Ben Bell concluded that Matthew “fails to demonstrate any of the classic symptoms normally associated with ANY psychosexual disorder.”
Those findings, significantly, were made after Matthew had been charged with “lewd conduct” on the basis of his disclosures to the detectives.
There was no physical evidence of an assault. No eyewitnesses independently verified the accuser’s story. If an attorney had been present during the interrogation, Matthew would have been advised not to answer any questions. The same advice would have been offered by his father Bob Cherry, a retired fire fighter who worked for the City of Beaumont for 30 years, if he had been made aware of what was going on.
Without evidence beyond the unsupported word of a single accuser, Hogee and his partner needed a confession – or the case would have evaporated quickly. Matthew didn’t understand the dangers of talking to the police, and his opportunistic captors weren’t going to clue him in.
Because of his dyslexia, he wasn’t able to read and understand the “generic judicial confession” that was written up by Hogee and presented to him. The detectives who coaxed Matthew to sign his name soothingly assured him that the paper simply contained his story of what had happened. They didn’t burden him with the knowledge that he was admitting to serious felonies.
The methods used by police to lure Matthew into incriminating himself are quite common, and very effective.
“I had a case that was in many ways nearly identical to this one,” recalls Karyl Krug, a noted criminal defense attorney who now lives in Phoenix after many years of legal practice in Austin. “It involved a young Vietnamese refugee who spoke no English whatsoever and suffered from severe mental limitations. He brushed up against a young girl in a stairwell at the shelter where they lived, and social workers claimed that he had touched her breast. So he was taken in for questioning and signed a confession while being held in police custody without an attorney or translator present.”
Because of Krug’s timely and professional legal representation, that young man’s confession was thrown out and the charge against him was dismissed without even leaving a paper trail. Matthew Cherry didn’t enjoy similar good fortune. There was no attorney present during his questioning, and the attorney his family hired didn’t file a timely habeas corpus motion following his arrest.
“If the attorney had filed a habeas motion right away, the confession could have been challenged and may even have been suppressed,” Krug observes. However, on the basis of that fill-in-the-blank confession, Matthew was indicted by the Jefferson County Grand Jury. He was given a $100,000 bond and “put into a cell full of inmates [with the guards] announcing that he was a child molester,” his father recalls. “We had a friend who worked [at the jail] who immediately pulled him out and put him into solitary confinement.”
Attorney Carl Parker (center).
This kept Matthew alive long enough for his family to arrange for bail and hire former state Senator Carl Parker as a defense attorney.
“When we took Matt to Carl Parker and showed him Matt’s case, he said it shouldn’t be anything to worry about; it was simply locker room horseplay and would probably be dismissed,” Bob Cherry related in a January 2008 letter to an attorney. “He told us not to discuss it with anyone, not even family…. We asked exactly what he was being charged with and were never told the charges.”
After six weeks had passed without hearing anything from the court or their attorney, Matthew’s parents found a job for their son as a security guard at an art museum.
A few days after Matthew started work, his parents heard a knock on the door and “a large group of police barged in the house with an arrest warrant for Matthew,” Bob continues. “By protocol, they were supposed to contact his attorney and he would bring him in.” At roughly the same time, another police contingent arrived at Matthew’s place of employment. The officers who arrested him announced within earshot of everyone that Matthew was facing a second charge of lewd conduct with a child.
The Cherry family somehow found the money to pay the second bail bond. Three days later, Matthew was arrested yet again, and a third $100,000 bond was inflicted on the already over-leveraged family. The judge later explained that the third arrest and bond were the result of a clerical error, but insisted that “we couldn’t get our money back,” Bob recounts.
Matthew was placed on a form of pre-trial probation and was ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation. His parents paid for four examinations by four different doctors, all of whom found confirmed that Matthew suffered from epilepsy, Tourette’s Syndrome, and other afflictions – but displayed no tendencies toward pedophilia.
Although the trial judge took judicial notice of the fact that Matthew was mentally and psychologically a minor, he ruled that the findings of those examinations would not be admissible in his defense. Meanwhile, the Jefferson County DA’s office was indicating its reluctance to try the case in court. The defense attorney hired by Matthew’s family spared the DA’s office the trouble of a trial.
In the weeks following Matthew’s conviction in August 2005, the family fired Parker and hired Joseph Hawthorn to represent him. As it turns out, Parker — a former Democratic state senator described as a “political hack” by a Texas defense attorney who worked for two and a half years in Beaumont — may have been compromised, as well as incompetent.
The Jefferson County assistant prosecutor generously conceded that the sentence should be “weighed against the defendant’s prior criminal history, which is none,” and admittedthat “on the scale of indecencies, if there is such a thing, that this is towards the lower end of that scale.”
He quickly recovered from that brief lapse, however, sternly insisting that the minimalist nature of the offense – stupid words spoken at an inappropriate time by a young man suffering from Tourette’s Syndrome – “does not excuse the defendant’s behavior nor does it provide him any time of lessening of what he did to these two victims.”
Judge Carver sentenced Matthew to 10 years of adjudicated probation and “community service.” He was required to pay fines and court fees, submit to expensive and open-ended “rehabilitation,” and register as a sex offender for two counts of “indecency with a child through exposure,” both of which related to incidents that involved neither physical contact nor lascivious language.
One condition of Matthew’s probation was the requirement that he stay more than 1000 feet from a school. The home Matthew shared with his parents was located near an elementary school. Like most registered sex offenders, he didn’t have the financial means to rent a home, even if he found a landlord willing to have a registered offender as a tenant.
“The majority’s decision effectively forces Cherry to rely on an attorney he did not want to represent him” during the sentencing hearing to handle an appeal based on his own ineffectiveness, McKeithen pointed out. “Under the majority’s logic, even had Cherry perfected an appeal, he would be required to await the imposition of a sentence and the outcome of his appeal before he could enforce his right to counsel of his choice…. Even if his appeal proved successful, only after being forced to suffer a trial result procured by an attorney not of his choice, according to the majority, Cherry would … have the privilege of retrying his case.”
In other words: Matthew Cherry would have to allow himself to be convicted and sentenced without mounting a legal defense beforehe could hire a lawyer to defend himself.
If things had gone relatively well for Matthew, his probation would have ended in August of last year. However, the probation system is designed to prevent positive outcomes. Today, Matthew – now 32 years old – is in federal custody. He awaits sentencing on additional charges after being arrested last summer by US marshals in Honduras, where he had fled in violation of his probation.
Matthew was arrested following an anonymous tip by someone who claimed that he was “grooming future victims.” Since the accuser, who remains unidentified, was aware of Matthew’s status as a registered sex offender, it is possible – perhaps even likely — that the accusation refers to any contact he might have had with children, as opposed to genuinely predatory behavior.
At the time he fled to Honduras, Matthew had completed nine years of probation – only to be told that his sentence, like that of Sisyphus, would continue in perpetuity.
In compliance with court orders, Matthew tried to attend school and get a job, but found that probation “was like torture,” his father Bob wrote in a letter to a friend. Officers from Jefferson County Probation and Parole “would call him any time he had a final exam in college and they would never show up for his appointment. [They would] show up at his work trying to get him fired constantly. [Matt] wasn’t allowed to attend family functions, church, shopping malls. [Probation officials would] show up at our home just to hassle him. No dating was allowed, he couldn’t leave the county without permission. The police were even worse; they came to his work several times a month.”
Like many others in similar straits, Matthew took a guilty plea on a sex offender charge in order to avoid being sent to one of the government’s rape factories. This meant subjecting himself to invasive psychological scrutiny – at his own expense — that was a form of sexual assault. It was a process akin to being charged a fee for the privilege of being raped.
He was also assigned to a “treatment group” that functioned like a “struggle session” in Maoist China: He was expected, and required, to admit to things he didn’t do, and to sexual urges he consistently denied (and that hadn’t been identified in multiple clinical examinations). He was required to file a “Weekly Sexual Impulse Report” that was both a degrading inventory of his inner life and a handy instrument of self-incrimination.
“The police would pull us over on the road, search us, hold us for an hour interrogating us,” Bob recounts. “They came at 2:30 am to our home several times a year. We dealt with constant threats and harassment. We found signs in our yard with a picture of Matt saying `Child molester lives here.’”
No relief: Former Texas AG, and incumbent Governor, Abbott.
For a decade Bob and his wife endured the pitiless scrutiny, and unremitting harassment, of local law enforcement alongside Matthew. For his part, Matthew dutifully underwent “programming” for his alleged pyschosexual disorder in the form of a Relapse Prevention Course for Sex Offenders. After completing nine years in that program, Matthew dared to indulge the fond hope that completion of the course would leave him free to lead a relatively normal life.
In early 2012, a SWAT team from the Department of Homeland Security raided the Cherry family’s home.
“Our family was subjected to hours of armed restraint and interrogation while the officers searched our home and collected alleged evidence,” Bob informed Abbott. “Although we know computers, cell phones, and our family’s financial and business records were taken away, we have no idea what was otherwise removed in the two truckloads taken by the officers, or what, if anything, we will ever see again. Our son, Matthew, was left humiliated, spread-eagle in the front yard for friends and neighbors to see.”
Matthew wasn’t arrested, but the raid essentially ruined his prospects of continued employment with a nearby computer store, where just days earlier he had been given a promotion. A few weeks later, Beaumont Police officers came to the home to arrest Matthew for an alleged job-related probation violation – namely, accepting that promotion without getting permission to relocate to another store in a different part of the city.
“Matthew had told his probation officer about this change,” Bob Cherry explained, “but apparently it was not what they had wanted of him.”
The officers serving the arrest warrant didn’t find Matthew at home.
The offenses for which Matthew was convicted are not covered by the U.S.-Honduran extradition treaty, which means that his arrest could be considered an extra-judicial abduction. Two of the counts in his federal indictment deal with “visual depictions of … a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct” on computers that were confiscated in 2013. No details are listed in the indictment, and the charges will not be contested in court.
Another important factor was Matthew’s desire to remain in federal custody, rather than being remanded to the “justice” system in Beaumont.
“Our attorney actually thinks that Matthew is safer in federal custody than he would be in jail here in Beaumont, or in the Texas prison system,” Bob said despairingly in an interview shortly before the plea agreement. The concerns behind that grim assessment may have more to do with the deal Matthew made than the evidence that would have been used against him in court.
“I’ll come up with something”
No law enforcement agency has ever claimed that Matthew was spirited away to Central America through an underground network of predators. Given his documented limitations it’s difficult to see how Matthew could have wound up in Honduras without help.
Matthew was persuaded to plead guilty by a false assurance that his probation would be brief and he would be spared lifetime sex offender status. After enduring nine years of suffocating surveillance and harassment, he learned that he would never be granted rehabilitation, or a semblance of a normal life, if he remained in Jefferson County. It’s reasonable to suspect that his decision to flee the country was supported by someone who cared about him and was desperate to help him – even if doing so meant breaking the “law.”
At some point, Matthew apparently concluded that violating his probation and fleeing the country was the best of the bad options available to him. However, that decision compounded his family’s suffering. Deprived of Matthew as a target, the local “criminal justice” system made Bob and his wife the focus of their undivided attention.
“They searched our house nine times, with officers and agents from several different departments – the Jefferson County Sheriff, the Beaumont Police, Homeland Security, the US Marshals Service, the State Department,” Bob Cherry told me in a telephone interview. “We were shadowed by police and constantly being stopped by Beaumont cops and Jefferson County deputies. We were frequently held at gunpoint during supposedly routine stops.”
On one regrettable evening Bob and his wife came home to find the gate to their property open and six armed men waiting for them – five heavily armed sheriff’s deputies and Armando Robles of the State Department’s Diplomatic Service. Robles demanded that Bob answer questions about Matt’s whereabouts. When his wife, who was carrying an infant grandchild, tried to enter the house, Robles physically restrained her and told her that she was “in on this” and needed to “cooperate” or face possible arrest.
Without a warrant, and in defiance of Bob’s explicit refusal to consent, the armed officers invaded his home and rummaged through the closets and dresser drawers. Out of concern for “officer safety,” Bob and his wife were detained outside their home for several hours. When Bob got up to stretch his legs, one of the officers drew his gun. With mingled astonishment and annoyance, Bob asked if this was necessary; the officer replied that threatening the victim with an unholstered weapon was “policy.”
Matthew had been lured into signing a confession he didn’t understand by devious interrogators who promised the troubled young man that they were just trying to “help” him. Similar unctuous assurances came readily to the smirking lips of the people who had invaded the Cherry family’s home. Unlike their tragically suggestible son, Matthew’s parents knew better than to cooperate in any way with officials who were trained and practiced liars.
“They kept saying Bob knew where Matt was and needed Bob to bring Matt in so they could `help’ him,” Bob’s wife recalled. “They swore they could get Matt cleared. Then they told Bob he was being rude because he would not talk to them or answer their questions.”
Agent Robles “said he knew Matt was innocent and just want to help him by doing his job,” she continued. When Bob proved to be adamant in the face of their enticement, the predators dispensed with the pretense that they were there to help.
course: “Bob asked to see [the warrants] and they only had one for Matt in their hands.”
Attempting to play both roles in the good cop/bad cop routine simultaneously, Robles “told Bob he will issue a warrant for our arrest because we refused to participate, but he would not be there when we are arrested.”
“We didn’t do anything wrong,” Bob pointed out.
“I’ll come up with something,” Robles replied, in what might have been his only moment of unalloyed candor. (Robles didn’t respond to my requests for comments on this story.)
Matthew’s parents were not the only members of the Cherry family who suffered this variety of unwanted attention
“They’ve gone after everyone we know,” Bob explained during an interview last October. “We’re living in a literal police state.”
Tolstoy famously said that every happy family is alike, and every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. No family, however, happy and well-adjusted, can long withstand relentless hostile scrutiny and armed harassment by agents of the State. The family’s savings – which had been accrued over decades of hard work — were quickly depleted. Bob and his wife found it all but impossible to make a living, and their marriage didn’t survive.
Even with Matthew in custody, the Jefferson County DA’s office and Beaumont-area law enforcement agencies have not relented in their pursuit of his family. Bob and his wife were forced to move – but this still didn’t bring an end to the harassment.
“The last time we came up [to Beaumont] for the weekend, the cops threatened to arrest us,” Bob wearily recalled. “They wouldn’t leave the house alone in Beaumont. They raided here, threatened to arrest [his wife] as well as me. I came back twice – the police came back to the house both times.”
As is often the case, some of Bob’s immediate relatives have assumed the role of Job’s comforters, berating him for resisting the will of the Divine State rather than simply accepting whatever its agents saw fit to inflict on his son.
“One close relative insists that the whole thing is my fault because I wasn’t `submissive,’” Bob told me. “She said `You lost your family because you fought back.’”
For his part, Bob is living off-the-grid in a remote cabin. He has no access to his bank accounts and describes his status as “living off the land until next Spring.”
Where did it begin?
According to Bob, his family’s ordeal began more than a decade ago at a family gathering when he made a remark that offended Joe Bleuell, the father of Matthew’s first purported victim and a fellow firefighter.
“He claimed I embarrassed him in front of his wife and he would not rest until he destroyed me and my family,” Bob alleges. “He had a life-long mission, and I was it.” In Bob’s account, Bleuell, who briefly worked as a police officer, boasted that he had family connections in law enforcement and the courts through which he could “manipulate the system” in any way necessary to accomplish his designs.
Assume the position: SWAT training in Beaumont.
Bleuell capitalized on the minor incident at the YMCA swimming pool as a way to realize his ambitions, Bob contends. Following a preliminary hearing in Matthew’s case, Bleuell said that “he would break us, and see our son would spend the rest of his life in prison,” Bob maintains.
In a November 8 telephone interview, Bleuell denied having that conversation, insisted that “I have no connection with Bob or Matt Cherry,” and said that “if you’ve talked to Bob you’ll figure out that Bob has some mental issues.”
Matthew, Bluell claims, “got involved in the youth ministry to groom people for homosexual activity.” Just as four psychologists failed to find evidence of such tendencies on Matthew’s part, nobody in the church saw evidence of Matthew’s supposedly predatory behavior – until after Bluell persuaded them it was there. He admitted to me that he after he discussed the matter with other members of the church “They told me `Oh, wow, we were blind. That’s what he was doing, getting involved in the youth ministry for perverted reasons.’”
It’s important to emphasize that the concerns that led to Matthew Cherry’s prosecution originated within a church – which means that they should have been dealt with, at least initially, under what Christians consider New Testament law.
The same chapter of the Book of Matthew that describes the dreadful fate of anyone who would harm a child (Matthew 18:6) prescribes the proper course of action for dealing with misbehavior of all kinds. First, the offended party is to approach the alleged offender in search of redress; if this overture is rebuffed, it is to be repeated in the presence of one or two witnesses. If justice remains elusive, the plaintiff and witnesses are to present the matter to the congregation. If the accusation is sustained, and the offender remains defiant, at this point he is to be considered fair game for Caesar’s “justice” (Matt. 18:15-17.)
In one of his anxious and occasionally despairing epistles to Christians residing in Corinth, the Apostle Paul rebuked the members of that failing church for “go[ing] to law before the unjust,” rather than following the private dispute resolution procedure taught by Christ Himself. (1 Cor. 6:1-6.) This approach doesn’t exempt Christians from appropriate punishment for crimes against persons and property, including grotesque offenses against children. It is very well-suited for dealing with a case like this one, in which redress could have been easily obtained without resort to the State’s “justice” system.
Matthew’s un-embellished account makes it fairly clear that he was ill-suited for the ministry he was given. In my admittedly limited experience, young men who suffer from Tourette’s syndrome are generally not given supervision of children.
Suspicion of misconduct would be sufficient reason to remove Matthew from his role in the church, and for parents to be wary about entrusting their children to his care. Church discipline operates on a different standard that the criminal justice system — which is one of the reasons why professing Christians are taught to seek redress within the faith before “go[ing] to law with one another.”
During his police interrogation, Matthew said that when learned of his offense, he contacted the father of his accuser and attempted to apologize, only to be rebuked for his “deviant behavior.” In a September 6, 2005 letter to Judge Carver prior to sentencing, Bluell claimed that although he initially “felt some compassion for the defendant and was open to some leniency and the hope of rehabilitation,” he insisted that Matthew had inflicted “further harm” through his “denial [and] attempt to prolong the justice system” – which is to say, his profession of innocence and invocation of his due process rights.
“I ask that there now not be any leniency due in large part because of Matt’s lies, deception, denial and unwillingness to accept responsibility,” Bluell demanded. “I believe any hope for Matt’s recovery is only possible if Matt truly repents and seeks the help that only God can offer.”
That pious exhortation offered a peculiar coda to a campaign that focused more on State-inflicted punishment than divine redemption.
Bluell maintains that he has “no animosity” toward Bob Cherry.
“I feel sorry for him,” Bluell asserts. “His son did something perverted, and over the past decade he has had some mental issues, but I feel sorry for him and his family.”
Asked if he was aware of any evidence of Matthew Cherry engaging in unambiguously predatory behavior, Bluell replied: “I went to court; all the evidence is out there.” That “evidence,” it bears repeating, consisted of a thoroughly dubious confession that was extracted by predatory police detectives from someone who was in some ways the equivalent of a vulnerable and trusting child.
The Beaumont Way
Bob Cherry is adamant in his belief that his family’s ordeal was in large measure a product of the corrupt and insular political and legal system that controls Beaumont and Jefferson County. That suspicion is abundantly justified, given the depth and extent of official corruption existing in the county.
The assailants in the 2007 incident, Deputies Rodney Cole and Johnny Vickery, were subsequently found guilty of “official oppression” – and “punished” by being forced out of the department. That episode apparently had no measurable impact on the corporate character of the Sheriff’s office, or the court system it serves.
In May 2013 – near the height of the Cherry family’s ordeal — Stephen Hartman, a private investigator and licensed civil process server, was arrested while trying to serve papers to Layne Walker, a District Judge and member of a local political dynasty. Hartman had previously attempted to serve a subpoena at Walker’s home. The judge reacted by pulling a gun and having his son assault Hartman. Accordingly, Hartman decided it would be safer to serve the papers at Hartman’s place of employment.
On the basis of perjured affidavits filed by several Jefferson County Sheriff’s Deputies, Hartman was charged with “hindering a proceeding by disorderly conduct.” Judge Walker also had Hartman’s “private investigator license, personal protection officer license, and commissioned security guard license suspended for about three months,” he recalled in a lawsuit filed against the judge and several officials in the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.
This is the Gothic legal environment in which Matthew Cherry and his family found themselves. We will probably never know what, if anything, was found on Matthew’s confiscated computer, or how he wound up in Honduras. No reasonable person, however, would conclude that a stupid and offensive remark in a locker room is tantamount to child molestation, or that Matthew Cherry received anything remotely resembling due process.
Whatever else can be said about Matthew Cherry’s behavior, there is no credible evidence that he molested anyone, or had any intent to do so. No other word than “molestation,” however, accurately describes what the “justice” system did to his family.