Matthew McGowan listens to his attorney before the start of a motion for a new trial at the Snohomish County Courthouse on Jan. 30 in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Matthew McGowan listens to his attorney before the start of a motion for a new trial at the Snohomish County Courthouse on Jan. 30 in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

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For tying Everett man to tree, to die in the cold: 45 years

Matthew McGowan beat homeless man Michael Boone and tied him to a tree on a frigid night, a jury found.

EVERETT — For beating a man, tying him to a tree and leaving him to die in the cold in Everett, Matthew McGowan was sentenced Thursday to 45⅔ years in prison.

A jury convicted McGowan in November of first-degree murder for killing Michael Boone, 46, at a secluded homeless camp off 41st Street.

“It is beyond comprehension how one human being can treat another human being in the way that Mr. McGowan treated Mr. Boone,” deputy prosecutor Toni Montgomery said in court Thursday.

In the hours leading up to New Year’s Day 2019, Boone asked another man, Darron Weidman, if he could help him to buy sex from a woman, Donita Burkley, according to charging papers. Instead of following through with the request, Weidman planned to rob the 5-foot-2 homeless man, and McGowan joined the plot.

They watched Boone check his account at an ATM and saw he only had $6.

But someone in the group noticed Boone had a wad of cash, and thought he might have more on him, according to Weidman’s testimony. Security footage showed the group walking south on Broadway in Everett. Weidman split off and went back to his camp to grab a knife. But he stayed there and got high, according to his statements to police.

Boone and Burkley went to a makeshift camp in the woods, behind Rucker tomb.

There, while Burkley distracted him, McGowan rushed up, beat Boone with a stick and put him in a kind of chokehold until he passed out, according to the charges. Then he tied him up with his own belt to a tree. Prosecutors believe he and Burkley left him there on a frigid night.

“He had hidden strength,” he told Weidman when they met up again, according to testimony from that defendant.

A passerby found Boone’s body on Jan. 4, 2019, wearing nothing but a T-shirt and red underwear. He was 46. His death was “100% avoidable,” according to prosecutors.

“Mr. Boone suffered in one of the most unimaginable ways after being tied virtually naked to a tree in below-freezing temperatures,” Montgomery wrote in a memorandum. “Looking at the photos of the scene and Mr. Boone’s dead body, it is readily apparent how fiercely Mr. Boone fought for his life, a fight that may have lasted only … several excruciating hours before hypothermia took over and his body shut down.”

McGowan, 27, took the witness stand at trial. He denied having any part in the actual killing. He claimed he traded drugs for a backpack that night, and it happened to contain Boone’s food stamp card, as well as a black-and-gray jacket that had Boone’s DNA on it.

Burkley did not testify.

She is awaiting her own murder trial, tentatively set for May.

Weidman pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery, and he’s awaiting sentencing.

The jury needed only a few hours of deliberation to find McGowan guilty of murder.

The defendant has maintained his innocence. He appeared in court in January looking much different than he did in front of the jurors — in a green-and-white striped inmate’s uniform, with his hair shaved off.

Matthew McGowan walks into the courtroom before the start of a motion for a new trial at the Snohomish County Courthouse on Jan. 30 in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Matthew McGowan walks into the courtroom before the start of a motion for a new trial at the Snohomish County Courthouse on Jan. 30 in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

In a series of motions for a new trial last month, defense attorney Derek Conom argued the judge should not have allowed Weidman to testify about what his alleged co-conspirator, Burkley, told him on the night in question. The defense also sought a new trial on grounds of a prosecutor’s argument in rebuttal; a technical issue with security footage; one juror being handed a notepad with “guilty” imprinted on the front page, because the court recycled the pad from a previous trial; and one juror who appeared to fall sleep for a few minutes in the middle of testimony.

Superior Court Judge Bruce Weiss denied each motion.

At sentencing Thursday, Boone’s family listened to the proceedings over a Skype phone call. Prosecutors noted many homeless people in Everett might abide by a “different set of rules,” separate from the rest of society, to survive on the street.

“They’re still citizens of our community,” the judge said in his remarks Thursday. “It doesn’t lessen anybody’s standing, or minimize their life, and it doesn’t give people free reign to commit crimes against homeless people.”

McGowan’s criminal record shows as a juvenile, he’d been convicted of first-degree child rape. Prosecutors noted Boone came off as somewhat “slow” to people who met him. In both of his most serious offenses, prosecutors said, McGowan targeted the vulnerable.

The judge handed down the sternest sentence possible under state guidelines.

Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; chutton@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snocaleb.

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