Matt Starkweather’s 50-month-long ordeal by prosecution continues to mock the ever more vague concept of “justice.”
Starkweather, 36, is a member of the Battle Creek, Michigan chapter of the Iron Coffins Motorcycle Club. In the wee small hours of New Year’s Day 2012 he fell into an argument, during a party at the clubhouse, with former chapter president Lee J. “Leeroy” Taylor – allegedly over $2,500 that Taylor owed Starkweather. The men came to blows twice.. The first time Starkweather prevailed. The second time, Taylor emerged from a bathroom with a baton and a knife. He knocked Starkweather down and stabbed him in the neck. Two other chapter members, John Lindahl III and Mario “Paco” Barroso beat Taylor with the butt of a shotgun until he rolled off Starkweather.
Taylor soon died. Starkweather called the police and was arrested for murder. In the coming weeks Lindahl and Barroso were also arrested. The case was both maudlin and banal but it was a motorcycle club case and motorcycle club cases glow. Homicide is homicide as iron is iron but motorcycle club cases glow as hot iron glows. Biker homicides and hot metal are both special cases and that seems to explain the continuing legal crusade against Starkweather.
Barroso agreed to testify against both Starkweather and Lindahl in return for leniency but his testimony was disappointing and the charges against all three men were dismissed.
Four months later a new prosecutor named David Gilbert was elected. He craved the heat in the case and in December 2014 he reopened it. He charged Barroso in March 2015 and charged him with murder. Even a blind man could see that Barroso was really being punished for failing to testify cogently enough to convict Starkweather and Lindahl. Gilbert’s argument was that Barroso was a murderer because he handed Lindahl the shotgun Lindahl used to beat Taylor off Starkweather as Taylor was stabbing Starkweather in the neck. Apparently the 67-year-old Barroso had a lawyer but he still agreed to plead no contest to a charge of manslaughter and last year he was sentenced to serve between 71 and 180 months in prison.
Starkweather was charged with murder again in October 2015. He had already spent more than six months in jail after he was charged the first time. He knew in advance that he would be charged again and did not try to flee. But he was still sent back to jail when he was rearrested, labeled a “flight risk” and denied bail again.
The case against Starkweather has always been tainted as well as thin. Before he was elected Calhoun County Prosecutor Gilbert had been a close associate of the lawyer representing the third defendant, Lindahl. Lindahl’s lawyer was named Matt Glaser. And earlier this year Glaser told the current judge in the case, Circuit Judge John Hallacy, “I told Gilbert about the information from Lindahl. I gave related attorney-client privileged information to Mr. Gilbert.”
Gilbert told Glaser he wanted to participate in Lindahl’s defense for the “good press” it would lend to his campaign for District Attorney. Gilbert also promised Glaser he would never prosecute the case. But, it turned out, the future prosecutor lied.
Hallacy ordered a special prosecutor, a man named Victor Fitz, appointed to the case. By then, Starkweather had spent 349 days in jail and Hallacy order the accused man to be released to confinement at his parents’ home. At the time Judge Hallacy said that indefinite detention without bail was something that “happens in third world countries. This is the United States.”
Under the conditions of his release, Starkweather couldn’t leave his parents’ property, drink alcohol or associate with anyone in the Iron Coffins or anyone who was otherwise connected to the case.
The morning after his release, Starkweather attended a mandatory probation hearing. He was given and flunked a breathalyzer test. For decades, the legal definition of alcohol intoxication was a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10. The legal definition of intoxication was eventually reduced 0.08. Starkweather’s test indicated he had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.002 which was probably because he brushed his teeth that morning. Starkweather had used Crest. Crest contains an alcohol called sorbitol. The breathalyzer test found the sorbitol.
A deputy also claimed that Starkweather had left the confines of his parent’s home three times the previous night between two and five in the morning. He didn’t speculate why. Starkweather spent another weekend in jail before he got the chance to tell Hallacy “ I did not have anything to drink” and “I never left that house.”
Hallacy told Starkweather to remember that he was “under a microscope” and let him go home again. A couple of days after that, Special Prosecutor Fitz admitted that Starkweather’s GPS monitor had “apparently” malfunctioned.
No Trial Date
But the case, and its magic glow, remains stuck in the mud. In arguing that Starkweather should be sent back to jail, Fitz told Judge Hallacy that Starkweather had stabbed himself in the neck to give himself a defense. Then last Thursday, Hallacy removed Fitz from the case after Fitz admitted he had been briefed by former prosecutor Gilbert on the information Gilbert had learned from Lindahl’s attorney Glaser.
So Starkweather’s ordeal by prosecution continues while Hallacy searches all of Michigan for an honest prosecutor. It might take awhile. It shouldn’t be this hard.
Yesterday, Easter, Starkweather was allowed to leave his parents’ home to go to church. Afterward, Matt Starkweather’s father Tom said, “No family should be put through anything like this. If the government has a case let’s go to trial tomorrow!”
No trial date has yet been set since it turned out Special Prosecutor Fitz cheated and lied.