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‘Breakdown in communication’ blamed for low bail amount leading up to killing

Ignacio man, with history of domestic violence, suspected of shooting wife in head
Mathews

Prosecutors did not ask that a higher bail be set for Damon Lamont Mathews, who is suspected of killing his wife, after he was arrested in November for domestic violence, according to court transcripts obtained by

Mathews, 44, was arrested Nov. 24 on suspicion of domestic violence against his wife, Rachel Ream, 47. Mathews posted a $1,500 bail on Dec. 25, and six days later, is accused of killing Ream at her home in Ignacio.

Earlier this week, District Attorney Christian Champagne said Mathews’ extensive criminal history, which included multiple domestic violence convictions, prompted his office to request on Nov. 25 that bail be set at $10,000.

But court transcripts of the hearing, reviewed by the Herald, show the District Attorney’s Office did not request bail be set at $10,000. Instead, the District Attorney’s Office asked for bail to be set at $1,500.

When contacted Wednesday morning, Champagne said the error was a result of a “breakdown in communication.”

Champagne

“This is obviously a very unfortunate situation,” Champagne said. “That’s where we failed in this case. That’s on us, and we will be better to prevent this from ever happening again.”

At Mathews’ hearing to set bail on Nov. 25, District Judge Jeffery Wilson asked Deputy District Attorney Alexandra Herlong how much the District Attorney’s Office wanted bail to be set at.

Herlong requested a “$1,500 cash or surety bond.”

At the time, Mathews’ charges were for misdemeanors, and according to court procedures, the standard bail amount for a Class 1 misdemeanor is $1,500.

But Mathews’ extensive criminal history was known at the hearing Nov. 25.

Herlong said in court that Mathews had “three or more domestic violence convictions, as well as two or more prior arrests for assault, harassment or menacing.”

According to court records, before the Nov. 24 assault, Mathews had been convicted four times since 2003 on domestic violence-related crimes. He had been arrested twice before for domestic violence charges against Ream.

And it was well-known Ream was in fear of Mathews.

“In the affidavit, it does state that there has been previous offenses that have not been charged that make us concerned for the victim in this case,” Herlong said during the Nov. 25 hearing.

An Ignacio woman, identified as Rachel Ream, was found dead Jan. 1 at her home. Authorities have arrested Damon Matthews on suspicion of first-degree murder.

The affidavit, written by the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office deputy who investigated the case, says, “Rachel stated she was in fear of Damon, and was afraid of what he may do if she reported the incident to law enforcement.”

Wilson granted a $1,500 bail, as well as a protection order that said Mathews was to have no contact with Ream.

Champagne said Monday in an email to the Herald that his office requested a $10,000 bail. But after the Herald reviewed the court transcripts this week, which showed no such request was made, Champagne reviewed his records and realized an error was made.

Champagne said a “supervising attorney” who reviews cases and makes bail recommendations was notified at 10:50 a.m. Nov. 25 that Mathews was going to be in court at 11 a.m. that day.

The District Attorney’s Office, short on staff, was forced to pull Herlong out of another court hearing to attend Mathews’ hearing, Champagne said.

By the time Mathews’ case was called up for review around 11:20 a.m., Herlong did not have the supervising attorney’s recommendation of a $10,000 bail.

Herlong, seeing the case was a misdemeanor, followed standard protocols and asked for the standard bail setting for a Class 1 misdemeanor of $1,500, Champagne said.

“The attorney in the courtroom was not aware that it was supposed to be $10,000,” Champagne said. “That is a failing on our office for not getting that information sooner.”

Champagne noted Wilson also knew of Mathews’ criminal history and the obvious concern for Ream, yet still approved the $1,500 bail.

“The court was made aware of past convictions concerning (Mathews’) criminal history,” he said.

Wilson has declined to comment about the pending case.

Mathews remained in custody after the Nov. 25 hearing at the La Plata County Jail.

Around Dec. 10, the District Attorney’s Office, after further inspection of the case, moved to elevate Mathews’ charges from misdemeanors to felonies.

At a court hearing Dec. 21 to discuss Mathews’ charges, Deputy District Attorney William Baird asked Magistrate Judge Sarah Law to elevate the charges to felonies, and requested the previous bail conditions be kept in place.

No requests were made to increase Mathews’ bail amount, and Baird did not discuss with the new judge Mathews’ criminal history. Judge Law ultimately granted the motion.

Champagne, explaining why his office did not attempt to increase bail on Dec. 21, said all of the facts of the case remained the same, so it would have been difficult to justify increasing bail.

“There was no new information to justify a request for an increase in bond,” he said.

Champagne added that at that point, on Dec. 21, Mathews had been in custody for almost a month, and his office believed the $1,500 was likely sufficient.

Mathews posted bail four days later and was released from jail.

Despite the protection order that said he was not allowed to have contact with Ream, Mathews was reportedly living in a back house on Ream’s property in Ignacio.

On Dec. 31, the two were celebrating New Year’s Eve when they got into an altercation. In an interview with police, Mathews said he became concerned the officers would be called and he would have to go back to jail.

Mathews told authorities he began to strangle Ream. He then went into Ream’s house, retrieved a gun and shot her once in the head. Then, he took her car keys and money, and drove to the Denver-metro area.

On Jan. 1, Mathews called 911 after a car tire blew out, and he told authorities he killed his wife. He was arrested on suspicion of first-degree murder.

According to jail records, Mathews remains in custody at the Jefferson County Detention Facility. Champagne said his office is in the process of transferring Mathews to the La Plata County Jail, but he does not have an exact date.

jromeo@durangoherald.com

An earlier version of this story named an incorrect judge who oversaw a Dec. 21 court hearing for Damon Lamont Mathews. It was Magistrate Judge Sarah Law who oversaw the hearing.

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