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Troubling Chew case draws to close

Published December 29. 2012 4:00AM

One of the most perplexing and troubling criminal cases in New London's history is drawing to a close with news that the last of the six defendants charged in connection with the 2010 murder of Matthew Chew has entered a guilty plea.

There is no satisfaction in this. On Oct. 29, 2010, Matthew Chew, 25, a musician and artist, was walking home from his job as a pizza cook when the six young thugs set upon him. He became the victim of a random act of violence. It could have been any of us. Stabbed, his dying words were a question, "Why? Why is this happening to me?"

There is no good answer to that question and likely never will be.

All the attackers were teenagers at the time, their lives forever altered by their perplexing decisions to take part in such a cold-blooded attack on a person they did not even know. Some of the sentences they face are distressingly light, but given the number of defendants, the prosecution faced a difficult challenge in assessing culpability.

This is the reality of our justice system. The prosecution knew that gaining convictions for some of the defendants was far from a certainty. Those defendants, conversely, realized they faced far steeper sentences if convicted at trial. So deals were cut. But all involved will be going to prison, the most responsible and uncooperative of them receiving the steepest penalties. The prosecution did its job.

Idris Elahi, just 17 at the time of the killing and identified as the attacker who stabbed Mr. Chew, is serving a 35-year sentence for murder after pleading guilty.

Rahshad Perry and Matias Perry, both 17 at the time, refused to cooperate with police and face 15-year sentences after entering guilty pleas to manslaughter. They are not related.

Brian Rabell, 18 when he participated in the attack, Tyree Bundy and Marquis Singleton, both 17 then, expect to receive eight-year prison terms after pleading to manslaughter. Prosecutors cited their cooperation in explaining the proposed lighter sentences.

In a commendable act of compassion, New London Superior Court Judge Susan B. Handy plans to schedule the sentencings for consecutive days in February or March, making it easier for Mr. Chew's parents to attend. They live in California.

The story of what happened the night of the killing has changed little since police made arrests a few weeks after the attack. Mr. Elahi and the other teens were hanging out at his home. Something they were watching on TV turned their thoughts and discussion to violence. Rahshad Perry chided Mr. Elahi about whether he would be willing to stab someone. The challenge was accepted. The six teens set out for a victim. They confronted Mr. Chew on Huntington Street, circling and preventing his escape.

Why did none of them speak up about the insanity, cruelty and likely repercussions of this hunt for an innocent victim? Was it peer pressure? Fear of appearing weak? Desensitizing caused by immersion in violent entertainment?

Revenge, jealousy and robbery are at least comprehensible as motivations for violence. But a group of boys setting out to attack someone for no more reason than a dare? That is truly terrifying.

Terror and hopelessness cannot be allowed to win.

Mr. Chew's family and friends continue to recall a kind and energetic soul. New London's downtown streets remain active. Since that awful day, increased youth activities and extended school days have provided more opportunities for the city's young people to keep active.

Continuing to work to improve the community, remembering a wonderful life cut far too short and punishing the guilty are the best a city, and a society, can do.

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