Thursday, March 13, 2008

Two men indicted in first-degree murder cold case in Martin County

Allen Dale Matzek

STUART — Two "career criminals" arrested last month in connection with an 16-year-old murder case have been indicted on charges that carry a maximum penalty of death.

After an all-day hearing Tuesday, a grand jury indicted Omar Cortez Johnson, 35, a Georgia prison inmate, and Darryl Lamont Cheatham, 33, of Durham, NC, for first-degree felony murder, kidnapping with a firearm, and burglary of a conveyance with an assault while armed. The charges were filed in connection with the Nov. 25, 1991 carjacking and shooting death of Allen Dale Matzek, 34.

Motorists found the Jacksonville resident's body on the side of Interstate 95 near the Martin County rest stop and detectives were able to connect him to a blood-splattered rental car abandoned in Fort Pierce, but the case remained without significant leads for almost two decades.

At a news conference in February, members of the Martin County Sheriff's cold case unit announced the arrests of Johnson and Cheatham, and said they connected the two "career criminals" to Matzek's death after receiving a letter in 2006 detailing the murder from a former cellmate of one of the men.

According to investigators, Johnson borrowed $5,000 from a South Carolina drug dealer to buy drugs in Miami, but the dealers beat him up and stole the money. Johnson then had Cheatham and four other men drive to Florida City to get the money back, but they gave up after exchanging gunfire at a restaurant. Johnson's group came across Matzek asleep in a rented Cadillac at the Martin County rest stop and decided they would rob him of the car to pay back the South Carolina drug dealer.

Johnson shot Matzek in the back of the head and the men dumped the body and the rental car, according to investigators.

Assistant State Attorneys Vicki Nichols and Bernie Romero are now prosecuting Johnson and Cheatham and said they could decide to pursue the death penalty, though Cheatham was 17 at the time of the murder. After Tuesday's hearing, they said the other men suspected in the case have not been charged and are regarded as witnesses.

Two of the charges Johnson and Cheatham faced — grand theft and robbery — could not be pursued because the statute of limitations to prosecute them for those crimes passed years ago, Nichols and Romero said.

The grand jury also could not indict the men on carjacking because it was not codified as a crime back when the Matzek murder occurred, the prosecutors said.

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