Deputies followed the smell to the bodies, stacked four high on a hill in Hudson. The victims had been killed at a nearby home on Hatteras Drive, where investigators found blood stains and evidence of a slaughter.
But for three years, no one knew exactly what happened inside, until murder suspect Adam Matos took the stand Wednesday, recounting his version of the killings in grisly detail.
He talked about shooting his ex-girlfriend and the mother of his son, 27-year-old Megan Brown. He shot her father, Greg, too. He bludgeoned her new boyfriend, Nick Leonard, with a hammer. And later, in a paranoid state, he used the same hammer to crush the head of Megan's mother, Margaret.
Matos' argument was simple. Yes, he killed them. But he had a good reason.
"They were trying to kill me," he said.
• • •
The morning of Aug. 28, 2014, started with a fight, said Matos, now 32. He and Megan Brown argued after she came home late. He left to cool off, and she called the police.
When Matos returned, he said, the door to the house was open. He saw Megan inside with their 4-year-old son, and he went to grab some things from their bedroom. That's when, according to Matos, Megan's new boyfriend, Nick Leonard, attacked him, grabbing him by the throat and holding a gun to his chest.
Matos said he struggled with Leonard, then stabbed him with a hunting knife he found on a dresser. Megan and her father, Greg, came into the room. He recalled her yelling, "Shoot him."
Matos said he wrestled the gun from Leonard and followed the Browns to the master bedroom, where he knew there were more guns. He came upon Greg in the closet, and Matos said he shot the man in the back. When Greg turned with another gun, Matos said, he shot him in the chest, then turned and fired toward the corner where Megan was hiding. A bullet hit the wall, then her eye, Matos said.
"I lost it completely. I just realized that I killed the woman I love, the mother of my child," Matos said. And: "I felt like my life was over."
In that moment, Matos said, he was mad at Leonard, whom he blamed for turning the Browns against him. He went back to the other bedroom, where he had left Leonard wounded.
"I grabbed a hammer that was on the floor, and I just kept hitting until I couldn't anymore," Matos said. Soaked with blood, he said, he washed up before checking on his son in another bedroom.
"I told him everything's going to be okay, and I gave him a hug, kissed him on the cheek," Matos said.
He locked the doors to the bedrooms where the bodies lay. Later that day, Brown's mother Margaret returned home, and Matos said he went downstairs to meet her in the garage hallway.
Matos said he was paranoid, convinced she would try to kill him, too. He hit her multiple times over the head with the same hammer.
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"There was blood everywhere. To prevent more blood from getting everywhere like what happened to Nick, I put a bag over her head," Matos said. "I used tape to close it off so blood wouldn't leak through."
Matos said he was "out of it" when he killed his son's grandmother.
"I realize now that she probably wasn't trying to kill me. I was just out of it and so paranoid and in shock," he said. "I feel disgusted, and I loved her very much. There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about it."
In the days after the killings, Matos said, he used Margaret's credit card to order pizza for himself and his son. He sold some of the Browns' dogs for cash. He threw the guns, hammer and knife in the canal behind the house. He bought a shovel from Walmart and tried to bury the bodies in the yard, but he said he cleared only 2 feet of earth before he hit rock. He loaded the bodies into Margaret's van, using zip ties and rope, and left them on the hill. He took his son and hid out in a hotel in Tampa, where he was later arrested.
"I knew it was only a matter of time before law enforcement got involved," Matos said. "I was just trying to stay alive and get (my son) out of harm's way."
• • •
In closing arguments, prosecutors worked to discredit Matos' version of events. They argued that he has no self-defense claim and emphasized that he had ample time to think about his decisions before making them.
"In this case, with each of these homicides, we see multiple indications that the defendant not only has the ability to reflect, but did reflect," Assistant State Attorney Bryan Sarabia said.
Defense attorney Nicholas Michailos told the jury the state did not prove first-degree murder. He said manslaughter or second-degree murder would be more appropriate, saying Matos was defending himself or acting in the "heat of passion."
If Matos is found guilty of first-degree murder, prosecutors will ask for the death penalty. If the jury recommends capital punishment, the law now requires a unanimous decision.