Judge Vernon Clark did everything within his authority Friday to guarantee Matthew Dotson spends the rest of his life behind bars.
Clark sentenced Dotson, convicted in September of the first-degree murders of his fiancé Misty Marshal and her son Day-Min, 9, to consecutive life sentences, without probation, parole or suspension of sentence.
The victims were killed the Sunday after Thanksgiving, 2015, from blows to the head, apparently delivered with a rubber mallet.
Clark told Dotson the sentences were consecutive rather than concurrent because “no matter what the Legislature does in the future (regarding mandatory sentencing, etc.) I want it clear that my intent is you never see daylight outside prison again.”
Clark retires from 30th Judicial District Court in December.
“Based on what I heard (during trial) this was an on-going incident, not a single incident. (Dotson) had to think two times about what to do with two people,” Clark told Dotson, whose motion for a judgment of acquittal/new trial was denied by Clark prior to the sentencing.
The state contended Dotson killed Marshal when she discovered him molesting the boy, then killed the boy.
Defense attorney Bob Noel disputed that scenario and contended in his acquittal motion that the state failed “to prove each and every element (necessary for a first-degree murder conviction) beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Clark conceded the case, in which the jury returned a unanimous verdict, was highly circumstantial “but still strong in many, many ways.”
Strongest, he said, was the testimony of Jasmine Moses, now 15, who though not a witness to the murders, testified first-hand to everything that happened thereafter.
During the trial, Jasmine recounted being forced, under threat of her life from Dotson, to help load her mother’s body in a truck, help drag it to a hiding place in the woods, and being compelled, with her two-year-old sister, to travel with the fleeing Dotson to South Carolina.
“He also indicated (to Jasmine) that he did these crimes, though he never said ‘I killed these people’,” the judge noted.
Though she was highly traumatized by the experience, the judge said, Jasmine was “very clear on the stand.”
“There is more than ample evidence to support the verdict of the jury,” he said.
During trial testimony and in his summary to the jury, Noel raised repeatedly a question of the veracity of Jasmine’s testimony, an issue that is considered likely to be in part the basis of appeal of the conviction.
Clark said there were no qualms on his part regarding the jury’s conclusion.
“To this day, I can think of no reasonable hypothesis contrary to the verdict. I find it was valid in all respects,” he said.
Prior to sentencing, the judge said “even if I had sentence discretion I think the sentence that is mandatory is fitting in this case. A mother and son’s lives were snuffed out, their survivors and friends left with nothing but their memories.”
He additionally noted the continuing impact on Jasmine. “This is not something that is final in her case. As long as she lives she will have to deal with this on a daily basis.”
Noel objected to the consecutive sentences and to Clark's characterizations.