The adoptive parents of a Russian child today were each sentenced to four years in prison for causing the death of their son more than six years ago.
Authorities said the couple allowed Viktor to die of hypothermia-induced cardiac arrest by locking him in an unheated basement room overnight.
Robert Matthey, 43, and Brenda Matthey, 42, had maintained that Viktor Alexander Matthey's death in October 2000 was due to an eating disorder the child contracted in his native country.
Under an agreement reached in April with prosecutors, the Mattheys each pleaded guilty to a single charge of reckless manslaughter, and the Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office agreed to recommend the 4-year prison terms.
The Mattheys were already convicted of abusing the child before he died, but faced a retrial because the jury was unable to reach a verdict on more serious manslaughter charges. They each received 10-year sentences for the child abuse charges, which was later reduced to seven years.
With prison time already served, they could be eligible for parole as early as December.
During their trial in 2004, the Mattheys said they sometimes left Viktor in the room as a punishment, but never overnight. They said his sudden drop in temperature was from a rare nutritional disorder.
The Mattheys' four biological sons and several relatives attended the sentencing in Superior Court in Flemington. Both Robert and Brenda Matthey stood and told the judge of their remorse over losing Viktor.
The couple adopted Viktor and twin brothers from Russia.
Ten months after he arrived in the United States, Viktor stopped breathing.
He arrived at the hospital with a body temperature of 83.2 degrees and died two days later. A medical examiner determined hypothermia was the cause of the boy's death and ruled the death a homicide, the AP reports.
The sentences came as little comfort to Viktor's siblings, 11-year-old twins James and Jeziah Johnson, who were also adopted by the Mattheys in December 1999.
Carrying blue flowers and wearing suits with buttons of Viktor's picture pinned to their chests, the boys sat in the front row of the courtroom. They listened silence as their adoptive aunt, Christine Keisling, read the letter they wrote.
"Viktor died before we were five years old. We remember him and we miss him every day," Keisling read. "We think about Viktor a lot and we cry when we remember him. Sometimes we cry for no reason, just because we are so sad."
Phyllis Matthey-Johnson, Robert Matthey's mother who became estranged from him and adopted the twins after Viktor died, cried as she read her own statement.
"Repercussions of Viktor's short life and tragic death at age seven will last a very long time," she said. "James, Jeziah and I hope that this brave little boy will not soon be forgotten."
The Mattheys' four biological sons, Robert Jr., Richard, Raymond and Jonathan, sat on the opposite side of the courtroom, directly behind their parents. They exchanged knowing nods with their father, and submitted a letter to the judge but did not read it. Other letters in support of the Mattheys described the couple as loving, dedicated parents who have been punished enough and did not deserve the 4-year sentences recommended by prosecutors, nj.com reports.
"Bob and Brenda are honest, hard-working, law-abiding people," said a letter by Judy Matthey, Robert Matthey's stepmother, as read by his attorney Paul Feinberg. "Had they been informed of Viktor's mental and physical disabilities at the time of the adoption, this tragedy may not have occurred."
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