Professor Gets 17 Years for Murder

Times Staff Writer

Cal State Fullerton professor Richard L. Smith was sentenced Friday to 17 years to life in prison for murdering his girlfriend’s estranged husband.

Orange County Superior Court Judge John J. Ryan said that even if California law had allowed him to alter the penalty for second-degree murder, he would not.

“If Dr. Smith had been eligible for probation, the court would have denied it,” Ryan said. “It is likely that Dr. Smith would create a danger to others if he was placed on probation.”

A jury convicted Smith of murder and then rejected his claim that he was insane when he killed Donald L. Matters on May 3, 1984. Jurors were not convinced by psychiatrists and psychologists who testified that Smith was a chronic paranoid schizophrenic.

Parents Urge Maximum

The victim’s parents, Kenneth and Dorothy Matters, both urged Ryan to impose the maximum sentence.


“Richard Smith brutally and cruelly murdered my son. Don was in the prime of life. He won’t see his kids graduate. He won’t go to their wedding. He won’t see any of the things we take for granted in the world,” Dorothy Matters said.

Her husband urged Ryan “to send a message” that society will not tolerate crimes like Smith’s.

Smith’s former wife, Donna, urged Ryan to show mercy and promised to be Smith’s friend “for the rest of my life.”

“He is a very loving, kind, gentle person,” Donna Smith said. “He does have a problem that he knows can be corrected by medication and the influence of friends.”

The philosophy professor remained quietly seated, looking straight ahead at Ryan. He did not turn to look at those who spoke.

Sympathizes With Loss

His attorney, Gary L. Proctor, said he sympathized with the Matterses over “the loss of their son for no reason at all.”

Proctor said Smith needs medical help, and if he had been found insane, “he at least would be in an institutional setting where he could get treatment.”

The defense lawyer called the court session “a requiem for Don Matters and for the sickness of Dr. Smith.”

Evidence showed that Smith, 44, waited outside the condominium complex in Orange where Matters lived and shot him four times as he left for work. Matters, 38, a construction worker, bled to death before paramedics arrived.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Thomas Avdeef argued that a love triangle had led Smith to kill Matters, the estranged husband of Smith’s girlfriend and former student, Consuelo Matters, 39.

Avdeef had sought a first-degree murder conviction. But jurors in the five-week trial concluded that while Smith intended to kill Matters, the crime was not premeditated. Therefore, second-degree murder was the most serious verdict they could reach.

Still, Ryan called Smith’s crime “the ultimate.” He pointed to “the particularly vulnerable victim,” the fact that in his opinion Smith had planned the crime, and evidence showing that “there was no provocation.”

Ryan Friday rejected Proctor’s motions for a new trial. And because the jury also convicted Smith of using a firearm while committing the crime, he was ineligible under state law for probation.

Ryan ordered that Smith be placed on parole for the rest of his life, if he is ever paroled.