Editor's Note: Many readers will find details in this article disturbing.
Vinita Pater expressed on Wednesday a mother’s anguish over precious moments stolen because her only child was murdered.
“I don’t get to get her hugs anymore. I don’t have the grandchildren and I never will,” Pater said at the Columbia County Justice and Detention Facility.
Her testimony came on the second day of a re-sentencing trial for Matthew Ryan Elliott, now 36 but who was 16 when he was found guilty of capital murder in the death of his girlfriend, Brittni Pater, 15.
“I will never get to see her grow into a beautiful woman. I will never get to see her try on wedding dresses. I will never get to go to a graduation,” Vinita Pater said.
Vinita Pater and her husband, Thomas "Tommy" Pater, were the parents of Brittni Pater. The girl was pregnant when she died in February 2000.
Elliott received a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. His guilt is not an issue in the current trial. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 2012 Arkansas case that mandatory life without parole sentences for defendants under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments. New sentencing trials were ordered for Elliott and others who were under the age of 18 when they committed murder.
In Elliott’s situation, this means jurors will consider a sentence of between 10 and 40 years in prison, or a sentence of life. In either case, Elliott could be freed from prison in a relatively short period of time given the fact that he’s already served 20 years.
Elliott bludgeoned Pater multiple times with an aluminum bar at an oil well site in the Village community early Saturday, February 5, 2000. Elliott then ran over her body with a car.
Both of Brittni Pater’s parents were in court Wednesday to testify about how their lives have been impacted with the loss of their daughter.
After court proceedings Wednesday, Vinita Pater said she did not think Elliott should receive a shorter sentence for killing her daughter.
The night Brittni went missing from her home near Lake Columbia, her father started looking for her at all her friend’s houses. He remembered being relieved when he heard she was with Elliott. Thomas Pater said he knew of Elliott because he was a frequent guest at their house and liked to come over and eat steaks he had grilled.
“I thought at least if she’s with Matt she will be alright. I guess I was wrong,” Thomas Pater said.
Thomas Pater said his daughter was his everything.
“She was my life, she was good. She took care of me and her mother,” he said.
A co-defendant who was also convicted of capital murder in the case, William Edward Davis, 17 at the time of the murder, was released in 2018.
Davis was called to the stand Wednesday and said he “felt rehabilitated” after the 18 1/2 years he served in prison. He also said he felt “remorseful to the family.”
Davis knew about the murder preparations. He helped Elliott dig a grave near Davis’ home the day before the murder. He gave Elliott plastic bags to use to protect his car from blood spill and told him about an aluminum pipe he could use as a murder weapon.
But, he also testified he never thought Elliott would actually go through with the crime.
Davis said he had tried several things to convince Elliott, with whom he had been best friends since the first grade, not to go through with the crime. Davis said he had asked his brother-in-law, Bo Burge, to go with him to a deer camp near the murder scene on the night of the killing to try to distract his friend. His aim was to get Elliott focused on playing drinking games.
He also said he refused to go with Elliott when Elliott told him they should go together to kill Brittni.
Burge wasn’t involved in the murder conspiracy.
“I told him, ‘I’m drunk, I’m having fun and I ain’t going nowhere,’” Davis said.
“He said, ‘OK, I’ll do it by myself.’”
When Elliott told Davis that he’d had sex with Brittni, he said he assumed his friend was lying. He said he did begin to question if his friend was talking about more than just dumping his girlfriend when he used the term, “get rid of her.”
Although Davis described Elliott as an outgoing, friendly person who usually socialized with others, he noticed a profound difference in the way Elliott acted on the cold night when he came back to the camp site after being gone for what could have been more than an hour.
“It was cold but I just remembered having the chills when I saw the blood on his face,” Davis said.
Although Davis was angry about his sentence in the beginning, Davis said he had come to understand why he was in the wrong. He said he should have taken more responsibility to tell someone what was going on.
Davis’ murder trial was held first and Elliott testified against him. Davis said Wednesday he understood why his friend testified because at the time Elliott was only 16, and Elliott was still facing a possible death sentence at his trial.
“His way out was to testify against me,” Davis said.
Dr. Charles Kokes of Little Rock, a forensic pathology specialist at the Arkansas Crime Lab, was in court Wednesday to lend expert testimony regarding Brittni Pater’s cause of death. Kokes has been practicing for 34 years and has performed thousands of autopsies.
Kokes said Brittni’s cause of death was blunt force trauma and he listed it as a homicide on his report. During his exam he noted 17 lacerations to the face and the scalp. He testified that the aluminum bar put into evidence earlier by Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Ryan Phillips could be used to make these injuries when he was shown the bar by Phillips.
“Yes, an instrument of this size, manner and type is consistent with the lacerations and skull fractures.”
Although the victim’s skull was fractured in a multiple pattern like a jigsaw puzzle, skull fractures were not the cause of death. Kokes said a brain hemorrhage is what ultimately killed the victim.
“There would have been substantial force to cause that kind of trauma,” he said.
The state rested its case on Wednesday. The defense begins its case on Thursday.
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