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Jury convicts Ignacio man of first-degree murder for shooting wife in head

Damon Mathews faces life in prison

An Ignacio man who shot his wife in the head on New Year’s Eve 2020 was found guilty Friday of first-degree murder.

Jurors deliberated about 4½ hours before reaching their verdict.


Damon Lamont Mathews showed no obvious signs of emotion as the verdict was read by 6th Judicial District Judge Suzanne Carlson. His public defender, Kellan Schmelz, patted him on the shoulder, and Mathews nodded in the affirmative, as if to show he understood and accepted the verdict.

The 45-year-old man faces a mandatory life-in-prison sentence.

A formal sentencing is set for 1:30 p.m. June 10.

Jurors also found Mathews guilty of felony assault, violation of bail bond conditions and violation of a protection order. He was found not guilty on two charges: intimidation of a victim or witness and retaliation against a witness or victim.

Outside the courtroom, Deputy District Attorney-Appellate Sean Murray indicated he was satisfied with the verdict, but he declined to comment citing a gag order in the case.

“We are proud to have been able to achieve justice for the victim, her family, and the entire community,” District Attorney Christian Champagne said in an emailed statement.

Mathews gave law enforcement a two-hour video confession, detailing how he strangled his wife before shooting her in the head. But defense attorneys said he acted in the heat of passion, a lesser offense than first-degree murder.

Rachel Ream was found dead Jan. 1, 2021, at her home in Ignacio. Damon Mathews was convicted of first-degree murder Friday in her death. (Courtesy of Ream family)

Based on court records and testimony, Mathews had two previous convictions for domestic violence and was facing a third charge when he strangled and shot his wife, Rachel Philips Mathews, 47, who was better known by her last name, Ream.

Mathews was released from jail on Dec. 25, 2020, and two days later began living in the studio apartment behind Ream’s house in violation of a protection order. He and Ream exchanged more than 800 text messages and spent more than eight hours on the phone with each other during a four-day period leading up to the murder.

According to his confession, Mathews and Ream were hanging out together about 11 p.m. Dec. 31 in the studio when they began fighting. Mathews said he tried to put his hand over Ream’s mouth so neighbors wouldn’t hear her and call the police. She bit his hand, so he began strangling her. He told investigators he strangled her for about three minutes. He then went into the main house, retrieved Ream’s 9 mm handgun and returned to the studio apartment. He then shot her once in the head as she lay on the floor.

Defense lawyers conceded Mathews committed crimes that ended his wife’s life, but they said he acted hastily, impulsively and in the heat of passion – not with intention and premeditation, which are elements of first-degree murder.

“This is a person who snapped, went blank and acted under a heat of passion, and he’s remorseful,” said public defender Kathryn Polonsky during closing arguments.

But prosecutors said Mathews had plenty of time to form a plan and act on the plan. They called the shooting an “execution.” He put his hand to her mouth to silence her and then strangled her. Then, realizing the strangulation would probably land him in jail for attempted murder, he decided to end her life, Murray said.

“Shooting someone in the head is an execution, it’s that simple,” Murray told jurors. “... Execution-style killing has but one name in the state of Colorado. … It’s first-degree murder.”

Ream was a mother of two, cared for a child with special needs and helped raise her sister’s son, said Delta Demain, Ream’s aunt.

“Rachel was always there for everybody,” Demain said. “She was just giving, she would do anything. If anybody needed a place to live or something to eat, she would go out of her way to do that, to fix a meal.”

Demain urged other women experiencing domestic violence to tell someone, seek resources for help and get out of the relationship before it is too late.

“You hear about it all the time, you know, domestic violence that ends up tragic like that,” she said. “It’s not a joke. It’s real and it happens way, way too much.”


A sentencing hearing will be held June 10. An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect date.

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