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Decatur murder trial stalls after last-minute self-defense claim

Long John Silver's shooting

Decatur officer are seen talking inside Long John Silver's, 701 W. Eldorado St., as they investigate the scene of a fatal shooting in early 2019. 

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DECATUR — The Decatur murder trial of Matthew A. Anderson Jr. was halted before it could begin Monday after the defendant suddenly switched his story and said he had grounds for a case of self-defense.

Macon County Circuit Judge James Coryell, noting the case dates to January of 2019 and has dragged on for 18 months, said he would put the trial off to allow defense attorneys to prepare a defense of self-defense.

Coryell said if he didn’t, it could lay grounds for Anderson to make a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel later on if he’s convicted.

“Mr. Anderson is facing a charge that essentially, if convicted, would result in a sentence of life in prison or close to it — we’re looking at a 45 year minimum and a lifetime maximum…” said Coryell, emphasizing the high stakes for Anderson.

The prosecution case, laid out in sworn affidavits from Decatur Police, accuses Anderson, 22, of gunning down and killing 18-year-old Curtis T. Hairston Jan. 4, 2019. Detectives said there had been a shootout in the restroom of the former Long John Silver’s restaurant, 701 W. Eldorado St. Hairston had gone to the restaurant, police say, to discuss trading guns and had been ambushed by Anderson, who had been wounded and hospitalized after the exchange of gunfire.

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Anderson is pleading not guilty to four alternative murder counts.

Defense attorney Monroe McWard told the judge the previous defense strategy, based on many months of interviews with Anderson, was straightforward. “My client consistently said ‘I went in there, I got jumped, I got shot,’” Monroe explained as Anderson, dressed in a jail jumpsuit, sat watching him in court.

“At no time until Saturday night at 9:30 p.m. did I ever hear a scenario with him include anything that remotely related to self-defense.”

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McWard said the sudden strategy change makes it look like he hadn’t done his job but insisted there was little he could do but seek a delay after Anderson suddenly dropped his self-defense bombshell.

McWard said he needs time to hunt down new witnesses and evidence related to the claim and examine police reports with a Champaign County connection.

The lawyer did not elaborate in court but a connection with another shooting death is already clear: Hairston, the victim in the Decatur case, was described as the third person involved in the murder of Bloomington man Egerton Dover in December, 2018.

“I think the interests of justice dictate that this matter be continued,” Monroe said of Anderson’s Decatur trial.

Assistant Macon County State’s Attorney Kirstin Krivanec said Anderson’s sudden change of tack left her with many questions and feeling “incredibly frustrated by this.”

She also asked for, and the judge agreed, that the defense pick up the out of state travel and hotel expenses of several prosecution witnesses already in town for the now cancelled trial.

Coryell scheduled a new pretrial hearing for Oct. 5.


Mug shots from the Herald & Review 

Contact Tony Reid at (217) 421-7977. Follow him on Twitter: @TonyJReid

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