PLATTSMOUTH – A Weeping Water man who was convicted of assisted suicide last year was ordered Monday to begin his sentence after his appeal to the Nebraska Supreme Court.
Matthew J. Stubbendieck, 43, appeared in Cass County District Court for a sentencing hearing and judgment on the Supreme Court’s mandate. A jury found him guilty of a Class IV felony charge of assisting suicide during an April 2018 trial.
Jurors listened to evidence that supported the state’s assertion that Stubbendieck had helped Florida resident Alicia Wilemon-Sullivan, 38, end her own life in August 2017. Authorities learned Stubbendieck and Wilemon-Sullivan had sent each other dozens of text messages earlier in the summer. They also learned Wilemon-Sullivan had told Stubbendieck she had terminal cancer and wanted to speak to him in person.
The state provided evidence that Stubbendieck had actively tried to obtain liquid morphine to help Wilemon-Sullivan with her suicide. The two people traveled to a remote wooded location near Weeping Water before Wilemon-Sullivan cut her wrists.
The jury learned Stubbendieck attempted to assist her by covering her nose and mouth in order to suffocate her. Stubbendieck stayed with her for nearly eight hours while she bled but did not call authorities or emergency responders for help. He then left the scene as she died.
Stubbendieck’s defense team had appealed the case for three reasons. They questioned whether there was sufficient evidence to support the decision, and they argued the district court had erred in admitting text messages between Stubbendieck and another woman as evidence. They also questioned whether the district court erred in allowing testimony of a forensic pathologist during the trial.
The Supreme Court’s March 29 ruling said the factual testimony of the forensic pathologist was relevant to the case. Judges said her testimony gave jurors useful information to determine whether a suicide took place and how much aid Stubbendieck provided that day.
“The fact that Sullivan’s body was found to have a lethal amount of morphine cannot be discounted, especially as it relates to the testimonial evidence regarding Stubbendieck’s attempts to acquire morphine in furtherance of Sullivan’s plan, an affirmative act which constitutes aiding or abetting under State Statute 28-307,” the court’s ruling states.
The Supreme Court also said the district court was correct in allowing text messages between Stubbendieck and another woman as evidence.
“Stubbendieck fails to point to any specific text message that demonstrates undue prejudice or is irrelevant standing alone,” the court’s ruling states. “The trial court exercised its discretion in determining that the evidence was relevant and that its prejudicial effect did not substantially outweigh its probative value.”
Judges concluded their ruling by saying there was sufficient evidence to support the verdict.
“Having viewed the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, we hold that any rational trier of fact could have found, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Stubbendieck did aid and abet Sullivan in committing suicide,” the court’s ruling states.
Judge Michael Smith had ordered Stubbendieck in June 2018 to serve four years on probation. Stubbendieck was required to wear a continuous alcohol monitoring device, obtain chemical dependency and psychological examinations and attend moral recognition therapy.
Smith also ordered Stubbendieck to immediately serve five days in Cass County Jail. Stubbendieck was also ordered to serve time in jail from Aug. 1-5 during each of the next four years. Those dates match the timeframe between Wilemon-Sullivan’s death and Stubbendieck’s first call to police telling them what had happened.
The probation had been put on hold while the appeals process took place. Stubbendieck completed his first five days in jail in June 2018, but he had remained free during the Aug. 1-5 dates in 2018 because of the appeal.
Smith reaffirmed all of the probation requirements in Monday’s hearing. The only change came in the future jail dates. Stubbendieck will now be required to spend time in jail from Aug. 1-5 in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022. His probation will last until May 1, 2023.