A Saratoga County grand jury has declined to indict a Victory Mills teenager who fatally stabbed his mother’s boyfriend as the man assaulted both of them during a violent domestic incident in May.
The grand jury on Tuesday gave a “no bill” on the second-degree murder charge initially filed against Matthew J. Brown, 18, in the May 16 death of Derick K. Clark, 32.
The stabbing occurred in the middle of a prolonged assault by Clark, his mother’s fiance, at the apartment they shared on Gates Avenue. The grand jury apparently concluded he was defending himself and his mother.
“This is good news all around,” said Brown’s attorney, Terence L. Kindlon of Albany.
Kindlon said the grand jury watched a 21⁄2-hour videotape recorded by the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office in which Brown recounted what happened between his mother, Heather Brown, Clark and himself. Matthew Brown did not testify before the grand jury.
“The video is very eloquent, just a kid explaining his story with no lawyers present,” Kindlon said.
Kindlon said Clark was beating Heather Brown because she had hidden his cigarettes, and when Matthew Brown tried to intervene, Clark turned his fury on the Schuylerville High School junior.
The boy heard fighting upstairs, he said, and went up to find his mother lying on a bed, playing dead.
“At first he thought she was dead,” Kindlon said.
When Clark threatened the young man for having called police, Heather Brown, 34, got up and told her son to go to his room, which he did. Clark pursued the youth into his room, where Heather Brown tried to protect him, but was thrown aside by Clark. Kindlon said Matthew Brown then lashed at Clark with a small folding knife, aiming for the shoulder but striking him in the carotid artery of the neck, causing him to bleed to death within minutes.
Brown is a slender 4-foot-10, while Clark stood 6-foot-6, Kindlon previously noted.
“If you hired four law professors to design a justification homicide, this would be the case,” Kindlon said.
District Attorney James A. Murphy III didn’t disagree with the decision by the grand jury, but noted the decision was solely that of the 23-member panel.
“The purpose of the grand jury is to review all the facts and circumstances and to determine if a crime occurred, then, if a crime did occur, whether or not the defendant is entitled to the benefit of any legal defenses. That is exactly what the grand jury did today,” Murphy said in a statement.
Brown, who has been in jail since May 16, was immediately brought to Saratoga County Court and released. He was expected to go to a grandparent’s home in Rensselaer County, Kindlon said.
Murphy gave basically the same account of the homicide as Kindlon:
During the late evening hours of May 16, Matthew Brown called 911 because of a domestic incident between his mother and her fiance at their apartment.
When Clark learned of the police being called, he attacked Matthew Brown, while his mother tried to intervene. Matthew Brown retreated into his bedroom and closed the door. Clark forced his way through the door, throwing Heather Brown out of the way. During the struggle, Matthew Brown stabbed Clark with a folding pocket knife.
Murphy said the evidence showed that Matthew Brown called 911 a second time immediately, but Clark died from massive blood loss within minutes, despite emergency efforts.
Grand jury proceedings are closed to the public, and their deliberations are known only to the grand jurors themselves, Murphy noted.
“Domestic violence homicides are often the most complicated and emotionally charged cases,” Murphy said. “There is never a good outcome. I can only be thankful that the criminal justice system functioned in the way it was designed, and I have faith in the work of the grand jury today.”
Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo said he was proud of the work his investigators did.
“I am proud of the work of my investigators, who gave the grand jury all of the evidence that they needed to deliberate fairly and fully upon the matter to reach a just outcome,” Zurlo said.
Kindlon said credit was also due to his wife and law partner, Laurie Shanks, and April Wilson, an Albany attorney who worked with Brown’s mother.
He also commended the Schuylerville Central School District for sending a teacher to the jail, allowing Brown to study and take tests to complete his junior year of high school.
“This concludes the matter,” Kindlon said.