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Published January 07, 2014, 09:37 AM

Man faces life sentence in Grand Forks assault case

A former Philadelphia man pleaded not guilty Monday to eight felony counts alleging he robbed, terrorized and sexually assaulted two Grand Forks women, including three counts that could put him in prison for life.

By: Stephen J. Lee, Grand Forks Herald

A former Philadelphia man pleaded not guilty Monday to eight felony counts alleging he robbed, terrorized and sexually assaulted two Grand Forks women, including three counts that could put him in prison for life.

Antonio Raheem Matthews, who turned 21 last month, has been jailed since his arrest Oct. 1 on separate minor charges as he already was the sole focus of the investigation into the Sept. 30 attack on two women.

The search for the suspect, as far as police and prosecutors are concerned, took about 36 hours, involving a well-coordinated investigation, distinctive tattoos and some satellite technology aided, apparently, by the suspect himself.

Matthews is slated to appear next in court Feb. 13 for a pretrial conference. Appearing in court Monday in shackles, he was returned to his jail cell under $500,000 bail.

"This case was solved based on good police work and strong victims," said Jason McCarthy on Monday. He's the assistant state's attorney for Grand Forks County who is prosecuting Matthews.

To have a stranger break into a Grand Forks home and violently sexually assault two women, as well as rob and threaten them, is "extremely rare," McCarthy said.

"Most of our sexual crimes involve people who know each other."

State's highest charges

On Oct. 2, only two days after the attack, McCarthy charged Matthews with three counts of Class AA felony gross sexual imposition, each carrying a maximum prison sentence of life without parole on conviction. Because a weapon allegedly was used, each of the three counts also has a mandatory minimum sentence of up to 20 years but not less than five years, District Judge Sonja Clapp told Matthews on Monday.

He's also charged with two counts of robbery, with a top sentence of 10 years but also with a mandatory minimum of four years because of the alleged weapon, as well as three Class C felony counts - robbery, terrorizing and felonious restraint - each with top sentences of five years and mandatory minimums of two years.

Matthews' attorney, David Ogren, asked Judge Clapp to cut his bail in half, saying Matthews came to Grand Forks about a year ago and was working on his high school degree. He has an outstanding warrant in Philadelphia, but it's for a relatively minor charge of stealing a bicycle, Ogren said.

McCarthy objected.

"I don't think we have a higher public safety concern than a case such as this," McCarthy told Clapp. "It's truly a case of stranger danger."

Citing Matthews' lack of ties to Grand Forks and the nature of the charges, Clapp denied Ogren's request.

Case moved fast

Police were called about 2:30 a.m., Sept. 30 to an apartment building just off Stanford Road and Gateway Drive in the city's northwest quarter, with a report of two women "running in the apartment building hallway screaming for help," according to the probable-cause affidavit of Police Detective Mike Jennings.

The women told neighbors, then police, that a man they did not know had broken into their apartment through the patio door about 1 a.m. He threatened them with a handgun, took about $200 and their cell phones and spent 30 to 45 minutes sexually assaulting them in turn.

They described the man in details that matched Matthews' appearance Monday in state district court: black, about 6 feet 1 inch tall, about 235 pounds, "with a round face," having a tattoo of writing on the top of his right hand.

The women said their attacker had a tattoo on his abdomen, which they saw while he assaulted them.

They said he locked one in the bathroom while he assaulted the other.

They described his clothing in detail, including a black North Face jacket and a white T-shirt with a gray and red design covering his face.

One of the victims is a member of the North Dakota Army National Guard and familiar with weapons, Jennings said. She said the attacker's handgun looked like a Beretta 9 mm.

It turned out Matthews had two black BB or pellet pistols that resembled such a handgun.

The attacker also took the women's Apple iPhones, which became a key clue.

Pursuit

The search began right away.

Within an hour or so, Officer Rory Suby stopped at the Cenex station just two blocks from the women's apartment, where the clerk said a man matching the attacker's description, including the tattoo on his hand, had bought Newport cigarettes about 1 a.m., and came back about 2:30 a.m., and pumped $50 of gas into a maroon or red Ford Explorer SUV.

Meanwhile, the women told police their iPhones each had the "Find my iPhone," app which uses the Global Positioning System to locate a lost device.

According to Jennings, at about 7:30 a.m., Oct. 1, "one of the victim's iPhones was powered on for a short period of time, long enough for the "Find My iPhone" program to send a GPS signal which showed the phone located in an apartment building located at 3514 11th Ave. N."

That was an apartment building within two blocks of the victims' home.

According to Jennings, at 2:40 p.m., Oct. 1, Officer Dana Plorin, on "routine patrol," stopped at the same Cenex and noticed a Ford SUV matching the suspect's with a "black male pumping fuel."

Plorin drove closer, noticed a tattoo on his right hand and "engaged the black male in a consensual conversation."

Asked about other tattoos, the man showed Plorin one on his abdomen.

Plorin said detectives wanted to talk to him, and the man, who said his name was Shamir Thomas, agreed to wait.

The name Shamir Thomas turned up nothing for Plorin.

Meanwhile, a woman arrived, identifying herself as the man's girlfriend and him as Antonio Matthews. She said he lived with her in an apartment in 3544 11th Av. N., where GPS had located the victim's phone hours before.

In the rear of the Ford SUV, owned by the girlfriend, investigators said they saw in plain view clothing resembling the attacker's.

Matthews was arrested then on two minor, unrelated warrants from municipal court.

A search of his apartment and the SUV turned up the victims' cell phones and other evidence, Jennings said.

Matthews has been in the Grand Forks County jail since his Oct. 1 arrest.

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