NEW PORT RICHEY — A day after Adam Matos described in grisly detail how he killed four people in Hudson in 2014, a jury responded Thursday by deliberating for less than three hours before finding him guilty of premeditated first degree murder.
Guilty of shooting ex-girlfriend Megan Brown, 27, to death.
Guilty of doing the same to her father, Greg Brown, 52.
Guilty of beating to death her new boyfriend, Nick Leonard, 37.
And guilty of using the same hammer to crush the head of Megan’s mother, Margaret Brown, 52.
Matos, 32, sat stone-faced as the verdicts were read in a tense courtroom under the watch of the victims’ family members. Some had attended scores of hearings and had waited for this day. From the gallery came sobs.
"The worst part is over," Leonard’s mother, Paula Rystrom, told those around her, afterward.
Matos had stunned trial spectators Wednesday by confessing from the witness stand. His attorneys wanted to put him back on the stand Thursday, but Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Mary Handsel said the additional questions weren’t relevant.
With the jury in deliberations, one of Matos’ attorneys questioned him, anyway, apparently to preserve an appellate record. The judge left the room.
"Mr. Matos, what was that day, Aug. 28, 2014, like for you?" attorney Dillon Vizcarra asked.
"It was the worst day of my life, a horrible experience, like a nightmare I couldn’t wake up from," Matos said.
The sentencing phase begins Monday, paving the way for family members of the victims to tell of their own nightmares.
Assistant State Attorney Chris LaBruzzo said prosecutors will proceed with plans to seek the death penalty. If the jury recommends death, the law now requires a unanimous decision.
"Either way his life is over," said Leonard’s father, Daniel Leonard, "and that’s basically all we can really ask for, to keep him off the streets, because obviously he was not a very good person."
On Wednesday, Matos testified that a combination of self-defense and "paranoia" drove him to kill the four in the Browns’ home on Hatteras Drive in Hudson. Their bodies were found stacked four-high on a berm alongside a nearby road.
Megan Brown shared a child with Matos. The boy, who has autism, was 4 and in the residence at the time of the killings.
In statements Thursday, Matos said he "wasn’t thinking clearly" when left the boy alone at the murder scene as he bought a shovel to bury the bodies.
"I feel horrible for doing so and in a normal situation I wouldn’t have done that," Matos said. "As a child I was left home from time to time and that may have something to do with why I acted that way at the time."
Matos said he was 19 when he met Megan Brown, then 18, through a mutual friend in Pennsylvania. They had known each other only a few months before she got pregnant. Matos said he went to court to get visitation.
It was her parents who convinced her to move with them to Hudson, he said. When she told Matos she was taking their child, he decided to make the move, too.
"I tried to convince her to stay," he said. "Tristan was born there, he had friends there, he was going to school, there were beautiful parks he could go to there. It was a great place to raise our child."
After the murders, the boy was adopted into a new home.
When the courtroom cleared on Thursday, Daniel Leonard recalled his own son, Nick.
Megan Brown had met the son when she began a new job as a server at Fisherman’s Shack, a bar in Hudson.
"He was always laughing," the father said. "He made people laugh and we had lots of good times together. He was my best friend. He was my little boy and then he was my pain in the ass teenager and then, sometime in his 20s, he really was my best friend and we had a good time all the time."
Contact Anastasia Dawson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.