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by Tim Stelloh, June 10, 2009
The last few months of Katlyn Long’s abbreviated life unfolded much like anyone transitioning between relationships: Unhappy with her long-term, 31-year-old boyfriend, Long broke things off. The 22-year-old Fort Bragg girl had met someone else—someone who, friends say, seemed to make her happy.
She left California with her new boyfriend early last year, but work obligations brought her back home for what was to be a brief visit. That fateful trip back would be her last: In the early morning of May 29, after spending the night with her ex-boyfriend, she was hauled to Mendocino Coast Hospital in an ambulance without a pulse—the victim of a methadone overdose.
Yet it wasn’t until last week that police revealed her cause of death. No charges have been filed.
The way detectives explain it, the one eyewitness in the case has exercised his right to remain silent since Long’s death. That eyewitness, of course, is Long’s ex, Garett Matson, son of ex-Fort Bragg planning commissioner and businessman Jerry Matson. Police say that over the course of that year they were negotiating with Matson’s attorney, Richard Petersen, in an attempt to get a statement. To maintain the apparently delicate balance of those negotiations, investigators commenced the media chess game: They withheld the results of a toxicology report completed last July that examined Long’s blood and found that she had overdosed. They kept a lid on all but the most public details of the girl’s death--namely, that she had died “suspiciously.” And they told the media the eyewitness was Long’s ex-boyfriend--but they declined to name the ex.
Petersen, of course, tells it differently. He says he’s offered to answer written questions from the police--but he wouldn’t subject Matson to a prosecutorial-style inquiry because he’s “suffering terrible emotional problems.”
“We can't open him up because he feels very threatened and weak right now,” Petersen said, summarizing what he says are a doctor's orders. “What people say about him breaks his heart.” In the unlikely event detectives share the forensic evidence they’ve collected on Matson, Petersen said he’d change his tune.
“I’d turn my client over,” he said.
In the meantime, Petersen sent a seven page statement to the DA’s office last month--a statement he described as a “timed list” of the days leading up to Long’s death. (Neither he nor the Sheriff’s office would share specifics of the statement.) And last week, detectives released an outline of what happened, along with the results of the toxicology report.
Yet it’s still unclear how--or why--that lethal dose of methadone ended up in Long’s blood.
The synthetic opiate, long thought of as a drug for junkies kicking their heroin habit, has taken on a different role in recent years as a cheap, non-narcotic prescription pain killer. As methadone prescriptions have spiked, so has the number of methadone overdoses: The drug can be lethal when combined, say, with alcohol, or when taken in too great a quantity, as its effects are far shorter than the time it stays in the body.
Sheriff’s Lt. Rusty Noe said Long didn’t have a prescription for methadone, nor did detectives find any evidence that she was using it as a pain killer. Friends say she was the last person they would expect to use such drugs recreationally. “She was like apple pie,” said Jeanne Huckins, who shared Long’s affinity for horses and rode with her often. “One time she came to the stable and she was babbling on and on and on, and I said, ‘Katlyn, what are you on?’ and she said ‘Red Bull.’ … She was very sensitive to that kind of stuff.”
Matson, on the other hand, has a history of prior drug charges. A several year old letter from neighbors in Matson’s court file even described his home as a well known crank house that police visited often: “For two years Matson has terrorized the neighborhood with shootings, loud fights and low-life people coming and going at all hours, though mostly in the middle of the night,” the letter said. It went on to describe how he “unleashed” a vicious dog on a neighbor, sending the senior citizen to the hospital twice.
Those cases--which include discharging a firearm while under the influence of a controlled substance--were dismissed when Matson agreed to drug court. (Petersen said a person’s past is only “circumstantial evidence of what the future holds.”)
Huckins described the couple’s relationship as a troubled one—a relationship where Long felt suffocated by her ex and which she ended shortly before she died. She described how, in the months before her overdose, Long had started seeing a new boyfriend--a man named William Housley--who Huckins said had brightened Long’s mood considerably. They traveled together to Washington State to visit Housley’s parents. “She was having a wonderful time,” she said. “I noticed a real shift when she started hanging out with William. She was a happy person—instead of a person who was always crying and blaming herself, who would cut herself.”
Long returned to Fort Bragg last May, Huckins said, because she worked at the stable where she kept her horses and the owners were leaving town. While home, Matson tried to rekindle their relationship. But Long wasn’t interested. The afternoon before she died the two had an argument at Long’s parents house--an argument caused by Matson thinking the two were close to reuniting, Petersen said. Matson allegedly bashed in her car and left, but returned later that afternoon.
By 5 am the next morning she was dead.
Sheriff’s deputies, who had been summoned with the ambulance, noticed “suspicious” marks on her neck, so detectives were dispatched to investigate. The marks turned out to be unrelated to the cause of her death, and the rest is history.
Some of Long’s friends and supporters theorize that she was murdered. Petersen disagrees. “If she overdosed, he didn't do it. It was either accidental, or intentional on her part,” he said. “I don't know of any one who would have wanted to kill her--including Garett. But nobody wants to believe she committed suicide either.”
For now, no suspects have been named and the DA kicked the case back to the sheriff’s office, which says it’s an open investigation--though District Attorney Meredith Lintott said her investigators are still involved, as they are with most big murder cases. If the case does go to court, Lintott said, there’s no statute of limitations on murder, nor with manslaughter in most situations. It can be a different story with other, less serious charges, however.
“It’s very tricky. People go to court to litigate statute of limitations,” she said. “The whole case can be thrown out.”
So far, Long’s family has been mum on the matter--Katlyn’s mother, Linda Long, said in an e-mail that she didn’t want to compromise the case--as are several friends.
But that hasn’t stopped an online petition, justiceforkatlyn.org, from being circulated; as of publication, the petition has nearly met its 1,000 signature goal. Once completed, the site says, it will be sent to the DA’s office because “…we want to show them that there are lots of citizens that will not rest until justice is served, and who will be watching this case.” Nor has it stopped thousands of posts from appearing on a forum attached to the Ukiah Daily Journal’s website. Unlike most message boards associated with controversial stories--where participants seem to revel in vulgar anonymity--this one is relatively benign: family and friends post poems; they give updates on the case; they talk about their freshly inked Katlyn tattoos.
Still, the site—like most message boards—has the aire of judge, jury and executioner. And it ain’t a pretty verdict for Garett Matson.