Jesse Ray Mathews had served a little more than seven years of a 20-year prison sentence for armed robbery when his request to be released was denied early last year.
But it took only six more months of good behavior and Mathews’ completion of a course in Microsoft Word to change the mind of a majority of the community corrections board. By October, board members had voted to release him to a halfway house — a decision that would have disastrous consequences 1,300 miles away.
Mathews now faces the death penalty in the shooting death of 51-year-old Chattanooga Police Sgt. Tim Chapin. Mathews’ arrest in the April 2 crime, which police and prosecutors say occurred while he was robbing a pawnshop, has cast a harsh light on Colorado’s system of transitioning inmates from prison to freedom.
Colorado Department of Corrections spokeswoman Katherine Sanguinetti said Mathews’ early release was by the book, and that compared to other inmates, Mathews was a well-behaved prisoner who was eligible by state statute for a less-restrictive setting.
Chapin’s family, meanwhile, calls Mathews’ release — coupled with a 2003 plea deal in which Mathews was allowed to plead guilty to just one of 31 charges — an injustice.
“I think it’s insane,” Chapin’s father, Ralph Chapin, said last week.
What happened in Colorado started a series of events that caused Mathews and Tim Chapin to cross paths last month — two men whose lives could not have been more different, and whose meeting was entirely preventable.
James Timothy “Tim” Chapin was born into a law enforcement family. His granddaddy was a federal officer who patrolled Civil War battlegrounds outside Chattanooga. His father, Ralph Chapin, worked Army security, then military intelligence before becoming a police officer, then deputy sheriff and chief of police.
Ralph Chapin was a strict disciplinarian with his four kids, and he rarely had trouble with his quiet oldest son.
Tim Chapin also excelled at sports, particularly golf and baseball. As a high school hurler, he threw a fastball so mean that when Ralph couldn’t catch Tim’s pitches, they shattered oak boards on the smokehouse the father and son used as a backstop.
After graduating college with a degree in criminal justice, Tim took a job patrolling congressional buildings in Washington, D.C., as a member of the Capitol Hill police.
But after a few years he grew homesick, Ralph Chapin said. Tim joined the Chattanooga police department on April 2, 1984.
Jesse Ray Mathews was born in Jacksonville, Fla., a little over a year after Tim Chapin joined the police force. Mathews’ mother, Kathleen, had just finished serving a sentence for manslaughter, according to court records.
The family moved to Colorado Springs in the late 1990s, where his father, Ray Mathews, worked for a time as a butcher, property and court records show.
At 13, Jesse Mathews was arrested for vehicle theft and burglary. He never graduated from high school, going to work instead as a bagger at local grocery stores.
In late 2002, police said, the 17-year-old went on an armed robbery spree, hitting at least eight people or places, including a Colorado Springs church. He was charged as an adult with 31 counts, including armed robbery, second-degree kidnapping, possession of a handgun by a juvenile and committing a crime of violence.
Four months later Mathews pleaded guilty to one count of armed robbery. As part of a deal with prosecutors, he received a stipulated sentence of 20 years.
Tim Chapin was on patrol in 1993 when he was called to a traffic accident that changed his life. It was raining, so he asked the female driver to sit in the back of his squad car while he wrote the report, his family recalled. Chapin thought the woman was beautiful; she was struck by how nice the officer was.
The couple started dating, and in 1994, Tim and Kellecq Chapin were married. They had two children: Allison, now 15, and Nicholas, who turned 13 this month.
Tim loved being a father, attending his children’s band concerts, taking Nicholas skiing and watching Allison’s theater performances.
As the kids grew older, Tim and Kelle Chapin began volunteering with the youth group at Abba’s House, the Baptist church where they were members.
Every Wednesday night Tim Chapin stood by the doors to the youth worship area, welcoming kids and keeping an eye on things.
Chapin was in plainclothes, but “he was my watchman,” Pastor Chris Brooks said.
“We all knew that with Tim there, we were safe.”
While in prison in Colorado, Mathews finished his GED. He also completed seminars in anger resolution, advanced Biblical study and a vocational janitorial program, and worked inside the prison in food service, plumbing and as a janitor, according to Department of Corrections records.
He was convicted of four disciplinary violations while in medium-security prisons: fighting in 2005; disobeying an order in 2006 and bartering or selling goods and threats in 2007.
Colorado law mandates that inmates convicted of violent crimes be referred to the local community corrections board for consideration nine months before they are eligible for parole. The parole date is typically determined by reducing the full sentence by 50 percent, then subtracting time off earned through good behavior.
The calculations meant Mathews was eligible for parole on Jan. 30, 2011, and was required to be considered for community corrections in March 2010.
The board denied that request. Mathews applied again later in the year, asking to be released to live with either his girlfriend or a sister. Instead, the board and ComCor, the local nonprofit community corrections program, approved his release to a ComCor-run halfway house.
In his new home on Nevada Avenue, Mathews was required to sign in and out, and list where he was going when he left. The halfway house operators also search the facility and pat down residents at random, said Paul Isenstadt, director of programs and residential services.
Mathews didn’t cause problems at the facility, Isenstadt said.
But he has a clear affinity for guns. Across his chest, Mathews has tattooed images of weapons beneath the banner, “Tools of the Trade.”
On Jan. 22, Mathews signed out as going to Kmart and King Soopers grocery store. Instead, police say he robbed a Carl’s Jr. fast-food restaurant before signing back in that night.
On Feb. 11, Mathews signed out at 1:29 p.m., saying he was going to work. Police say he borrowed his girlfriend’s car, walked into a pawnshop around 7 p.m. and pointed a gun at an employee’s head.
He left with a pillowcase stuffed with 16 guns, jewelry, and $15,000 cash, according to court records.
The girlfriend later told police that Mathews picked her up from work and drove to a hotel, where he showed her his haul. According to the girlfriend, Mathews taped four or five guns to his body before he returned to the halfway house.
He signed out of the halfway house for the last time on the afternoon of Feb. 12, saying he was going to work. He was supposed to be back by 2 a.m. the next day.
When he hadn’t returned by just after 3 a.m., staff started looking for him. At 5:15 a.m., they called the Department of Corrections to report an escape, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Tim Chapin was promoted to sergeant in 2004. He had worked the homicide and burglary divisions, but given the choice, he opted for patrol because it allowed him to be on the street helping people, his family said.
“He didn’t put a lot of people in jail,” Ralph Chapin said, “but the ones he did deserved to be there.”
And sometimes, they got a surprise on their way.
At a meeting one Sunday after church, a group of leaders was talking about witnessing to others about Christ when Tim piped up, Brooks recalled.
“He said, ‘Every time I arrest somebody and I put them in the car, from there until whenever we get to the jail, I’ve got their undivided attention. ... So I’ll cuff them, and then they’re going to hear about Jesus,’” Brooks said.
People chuckle at the story, but Chapin was serious.
“He did it,” Brooks said. “I know he did.”
Mathews’ girlfriend rented a hotel room for the two of them for the night of Feb. 13, according to court documents. The next day, police say, Mathews robbed a local Walgreens.
By the time Colorado Springs detectives linked him to the robberies, learned of the warrant and interviewed his girlfriend, Mathews was making his way south.
According to court records, Mathews wired money to his sister, Rachel, in North Carolina so she could buy a plane ticket to Colorado Springs and help him escape. Rachel used fake names to buy bus tickets and the two traveled to Nashville,.
Rachel Mathews’ boyfriend picked them up at the bus station and drove them to Asheville, N.C., where they met Mathews’ parents. The whole family then moved into a hotel in Chattanooga under the name of Moore, court records allege.
While they were there, the Colorado Department of Corrections called Kathleen Mathews and asked if she knew where Jesse was. Kathleen said no, but that she would call if she found out, according to an affidavit filed in federal court.
Jesse Mathews, using the name Kevin Moore, met a new girlfriend at the hotel and soon moved in with her.
He moved his parents and sister into a townhome in northeast Chattanooga. According to the landlord, Mathews used cash to pay two months’ rent in advance. Mathews said he earned the money while serving in the military.
Ashley Harrison, who lived next door in the duplex, said the Mathews family were quiet and kept to themselves.
“It makes sense now that they would,” she said.
Toward the end of March, Jesse Mathews and his girlfriend went to a gun show in Chattanooga. Jesse called his dad, Ray, and asked him to “bring the family collection” — referring to some of the firearms Mathews had taken during the Colorado Springs robbery, police say. He traded some of the guns for an M-4 assault rifle that he carried around in a guitar case, according to an FBI affidavit.
On March 28, Ray and Kathleen drove Jesse Mathews to a bus station in Nashville. The plan was for Jesse to take a bus to New York, get fake identification and flee to Canada. But by the next day, he was back in Chattanooga.
Tim Chapin sat in his usual seat in the back corner of Starbucks, talking with one of his patrol officers over a tall decaf. It was April 2, 2011, 27 years to the day since he had joined the Chattanooga police force, and he had been talking about taking the family out to celebrate.
About a half-mile to the east, Mathews pulled up to a pawnshop in his girlfriend’s car. As he walked into the U.S. Money Store, he wore a protective vest and carried two guns, police say.
Minutes later, a pawnshop employee triggered a silent alarm.
Inside the Starbucks, the call came across for the officer sitting with Sgt. Chapin. But Chapin knew his patrolman had paperwork to do from an earlier traffic incident.
Go back and write that up, Chapin told him. I’ll handle this.
According to police, this is how events unfolded.
Two other officers arrived at the pawnshop first. The police report says Mathews started shooting through the store’s window at the officers, then fled out a side door just as Chapin arrived and ran toward the back of the building.
As Chapin chased Mathews in his squad car, Mathews fired at his windshield, police say. Chapin hit Mathews with his car, then got out and began chasing him.
As they exchanged gunfire, Chapin’s shots were deflected by Mathews’ protective vest.
But one of Mathews’ shots hit Chapin in the head, killing him.
Mathews was taken into custody a short time later, and police recovered two guns.
Both weapons were among those Mathews is suspected of stealing from the Colorado Springs pawnshop, authorities say.
Today Mathews faces the death penalty if convicted of killing Chapin and shooting another officer, Lorin Johnston, who survived.
Ray, Kathleen and Rachel Mathews are being held on federal charges of being an accessory to Jesse Mathews’ crimes and disposing of weapons for a convicted felon.
The week after his death, thousands of people attended Tim Chapin’s funeral service at Abba’s House. Chapin was then taken by horse-drawn carriage to his burial site.
Person after person has told the Chapin family stories about how Tim had helped them — stories Tim Chapin never told his family himself. People donated money to his children’s college fund. At the Starbucks, customers left flowers and notes. Earlier this month, Sgt. Tim Chapin’s name was added to the city’s law enforcement memorial.
“There will always be that hole in your heart. ... This won’t ever go away,” said Chapin’s mother, Linda Chapin. “I just can’t understand it.”