Just three hours to guilty verdict
McCONNELSVILLE -One of the 12 jurors deciding the fate of a Malta murder suspect sobbed silently as she retook her seat in Morgan County Common Pleas Court Thursday – an ominous sign for 51-year-old Thomas Matthew “Matt” Pace, who moments later was pronounced guilty in the case.
The guilty verdict set off sobs from Pace’s family and supporters as well as the family members of 33-year-old Dustin Drone, who Pace is now convicted of stabbing to death in a Nov. 2 fight.
But Pace remained calm, patting his attorney-Columbus-based J. Tullis Rogers-on the back and asking Morgan County Common Pleas Court Judge Dan Favreau to proceed immediately to sentencing.
“Far as I’m concerned you can save everybody a whole bunch of time and money,” Pace said.
He then turned to Drone’s family members seated in the courtroom.
“Sorry about Dustin,” he told them.
But Ohio law stipulates Pace will have to wait for certain reports and assessments before he can be sentenced on the charge, which carries a lifetime sentence with the possibility of parole after 15 years. The charge also included a repeat violent offender specification which would add between one and 10 years to his parole eligibility. Pace has prior felonies and spent time in prison more than a decade ago.
Pace testified on his own behalf Thursday, saying he had not gone to the nearby home of Danny Jones to start a fight. Jones and Pace were old friends who had a falling out. Jones became suspicious that Pace was having an affair with his wife, and mercilessly harassed him, Pace said.
According to previous testimony, that confrontation came to a head Nov. 2, as Danny’s wife, Kathy, 56, and daughter spent the evening at a birthday at Pace’s residence.
Danny Jones and Dustin Drone had spent the day together, drinking and watching an Ohio State University football game, according to Kathy’s testimony Wednesday.
In footage of Pace’s interview with a Morgan County Sheriff’s sergeant the night of the incident, Pace told the officer Danny repeatedly called his house that night. Danny had threatened his family repeatedly in the previous months, he said.
“Tonight it just drove me over the limit,” Pace said in his initial interview that night.
In court Thursday, Pace said he had not been mad when he left for the Jones home that night, and had only intended to “holler at Danny”.
His story about the fight itself was consistent in both his initial interview and his testimony Thursday. It was Drone who approached Pace and initiated a fight when he parked on the road near the house that night, and Pace did not, at any point during the fight, have a knife, he said.
“I didn’t have no knife. I didn’t want to hurt Dustin. I just wanted to get out of there,” Pace told Ohio Assistant Attorney General Paul Scarsella, who prosecuted the case alongside Morgan County Prosecutor Mark Howdyshell.
Rogers pointed out Drone’s initiation of the confrontation and the lack of physical evidence in his closing argument. There was no knife found, except ones collected from Jones’ home days later, said Rogers. Additionally, no DNA evidence was taken.
“There isn’t enough evidence for a conviction for murder to send this man away for the rest of his life,” Rogers told the jury.
The jury disagreed, finding Pace guilty on the single charge placed before them.
“I’m very disappointed,” Rogers said after the verdict.
Rogers said Pace showed impressive character, turning his life around after his first prison stint. He even refused to collect Social Security benefits for which he was eligible, opting instead to find a job, said Rogers.
Rogers said Pace indicated he did not plan to appeal, though that could change. His sentencing will be set for a date in about a month, said Favreau.