Man Found Guilty in Shotgun Slaying of His Adoptive Parents
A 22-year-old man was found guilty Friday of murdering his adoptive parents with shotgun shells police said were inscribed with the words “Mom” and “Dad.”
Matthew Heikkila was convicted on 12 counts of murder, kidnaping, robbery, making terrorist threats and weapons charges.
“He just took it quietly,” Superior Court Judge Michael Imbriani said of Heikkila, who was being held in Somerset County Jail without bail.
The penalty phase of the trial will begin Jan. 4, when the jury will be asked to decide whether Heikkila should be sentenced to death.
Heikkila ambushed his adoptive parents as they returned to their Bernards Township home on Jan. 29, 1991, and shot and killed them. Investigators found spent shotgun shells, one inscribed “Mom” and the other “Mom and Dad.”
Heikkila’s father, Richard, was a medical researcher known for his work on Parkinson’s disease. His mother, Dawn, was a real estate agent.
Defense attorneys claimed that Heikkila had a history of serious mental illness and shot his parents during a psychotic outburst.
But Somerset County Prosecutor Nicholas L. Bissell Jr. said Heikkila’s statements to police, prosecutors and reporters offered ample evidence that while he was a troubled youth he coldly planned the killings.
Heikkila gave various explanations for the slayings. He said his parents favored his brother, Joshua, the couple’s biological son. He also claimed that he killed his parents to get money to celebrate his girlfriend’s birthday.
In addition to the murder counts, Heikkila was charged with kidnaping his girlfriend and forcing her to spend the night in the family home with his parent’s bodies.
In his closing statement Thursday, Bissell quoted a letter Heikkila mailed from his jail cell after the killings as saying he “beat” an earlier charge of assaulting his father. Heikkila was found not guilty by reason of insanity of making terrorist threats in that 1990 case.
The sole defense witness, psychiatrist Harry Brunt, testified Monday that Heikkila was insane and did not know right from wrong at the time of the killings. He said Heikkila did not receive proper care after being acquitted of threatening his father.
“They didn’t treat him when they should have. They didn’t commit him when they should have. And because of that we have a recurrence,” defense attorney Michael Shale said during his closing statement.