DIXON – After getting a good look into the soul of Matthew Welling, and finding it irredeemable, a Lee County Court judge sentenced the convicted murderer Wednesday afternoon to 90 years in prison: 60 for fatally beating and slashing 79-year-old Leroy Daniels, and 30 more for the home invasion that preceded the vicious attack.
The 34-year-old Amboy man must serve the full 60 years for the homicide – effectively, a life sentence – before the consecutive home invasion term kicks in. He must serve at least 85 percent, or 25.5 years, for that crime.
"Frankly, Mr. Welling, you scare the bejeebies out of me," Judge Ron Jacobson said, when explaining why he was granting the prosecution's request for the maximum sentence.
Welling, 34, of Amboy, who has no previous felony criminal record, was convicted May 19 of five counts of first-degree murder and the home invasion. He could be sentenced on just one murder count.
He sat through sentencing Wednesday as he had during his trial, quietly and with little emotion. He was more unkempt, with a few days' growth of beard, his dirty blond hair a little longer, his suit and tie the same, his detached expression the same.
Leroy Daniels bled to death after being beaten and slashed in the attack in the early hours of July 18, 2012. Welling had told another man he met that night that he would "kill him in his sleep," but killed Daniels instead in a drunken, angry rage after going to the wrong house, Assistant State's Attorney Peter Buh said.
Daniels' wife, Betty, who has MS, followed her husband to the door that night. She was dumped from her scooter and unable to move, forced to witness her husband's murder and sit beside his blood-soaked body nearly 18 hours before being found by one of their daughters.
As during the 4-day trial, Lee County Public Defender Bob Thompson called no witnesses during Wednesday's sentencing hearing. Welling declined to make a statement.
The murder sentence carried 20 to 60 years, the home invasion 6 to 30. Several members of the Daniels family took the stand to ask Jacobson to give Welling the maximum sentence, and a victim impact statement from Betty Daniels also was read into the record.
"You are a son of a bitch," she said to Welling. "You killed the father of my children, my caretaker, my friend, the love of my life." She lost not only her husband, but the house he had tailor-made for her, and her ability to live independently, she wrote. "I hope you rot in hell."
Lisa O'Connell, who found her parents the next day, noted that Wednesday was "the 707th day my life has begun and ended the same way" – in grief and sorrow. Her daughter, Chelcie, who was with her mother that day, also took the stand. "Our family is forever broken," she told the judge.
Another of Daniels' daughters, Tami Johnson, mourned the taint his murder put on her father's legacy of kindness and selfless service to his family and community.
"Now when people hear his name, they think of the way he died, instead of the way he lived his life," she lamented.
Letters from Welling's friends and family were submitted to the court but not read aloud.
Welling now has 30 days to appeal his conviction, and 30 days to file a motion to reconsider his sentence. If the motion to reconsider is denied, he will have 30 days from that date to appeal his sentence.
Welling, who told police he had no memory of attacking Daniels, broke the victim's jaw, ribs and nose, and inflicted more than 30 cuts and stabs to his head alone, using a broken glass flower vase with jagged edges. The fatal wound was a deep slash to the back of his neck.
The jury convicted him in about an hour.
The evidence was overwhelming: Welling left behind his DNA, his fingerprints, his broken flip-flops and a necklace that held a vial of his brother's ashes, engraved with his brother's name. His state ID was found nearby.
What played heavily into the judge's sentence, he said, was testimony heard for the first time Wednesday: That as he was beating and stabbing her husband to death, Welling, whom she called "the creep," was talking to Betty Daniels: "Can you hear it? Can you hear it? Jesus is coming. Can you feel it? Jesus is coming."
"Stunning," Jacobson said. "That appalled me .... that shows me, in my opinion, the soul of Mr. Welling."
In addition, although he has no felony convictions, Welling has a history of violent petty crimes, including domestic battery, aggravated assault, disorderly conduct and other fights, that involve arrests and/or convictions stretching back to 1998, his presentence report revealed. That, too, factored into his sentence, Jacobson said.