EVERETT — The last time Michael Boone was seen alive, he walked south in the dark on Broadway, en route to woods where he was found tied to a tree, stripped to a T-shirt and red underwear, dead from exposure to the frigid New Year’s air. Leafy debris around his body made the shape of a snow angel when he was found days later on Jan. 4, 2019.
Three people were spotted on camera in a group with Boone after midnight on New Year’s Day: a woman he offered to pay for sex, Donita Burkley, 34; her self-proclaimed protector, Darron Weidman, 41; and one of Weidman’s friends, Matthew McGowan, 27.
McGowan split from the group before reaching the woods behind the Evergreen Funeral Home and Cemetery, because he felt out of place. He left to go smoke meth for the fourth time that night.
That’s the story he told on the witness stand Friday, in the second week of his first-degree murder trial.
McGowan is accused of ambushing Boone while he was distracted by Burkley, at a small homeless camp off 41st Street. According to the charges, McGowan beat Boone with a stick, put him in a kind of choke-hold until he passed out, and tied him up with his own belt — all to steal a small wad of cash.
“Were you there?” McGowan’s attorney Derek Conom asked the defendant Friday.
“No,” McGowan said.
“Did you beat Michael Boone?”
“Did you strangle him?”
“Did you choke him?”
“Did you tie him to a tree?”
“Did you take anything from Michael Boone at any point?”
It’s the first time McGowan has told his story.
His most clear memories of the night, he said, were of getting high. He recalled he left his home on Lombard Avenue to go to a friend’s camper to hang out and smoke meth, then went to the Everett Gospel Mission to meet up with old friends and smoke more meth.
McGowan testified he traded drugs with a stranger at the mission and got a backpack in return. According to McGowan, the pack held a black-and-gray jacket and other random pieces of property, including the food stamp card of the man who was later tied to the tree.
According to the defense, prosecutors have three real pieces of evidence tying McGowan to the murder: the jacket, later found on McGowan’s porch stained with drops of Boone’s blood; Boone’s food stamp card, found in the defendant’s bedroom; and Weidman’s testimony.
Weidman told police the crime was set in motion when Boone approached him about paying for sex with Burkley. He told Boone he could make that happen, figuring he and Burkley would take the money but would not follow through. They went to check his bank account and saw he only had $6. Someone in the group had seen he carried cash, though, and thought he might have more on him, Weidman said. Weidman told police he was the one who split off from the group, supposedly to grab a knife to scare Boone. Instead he stayed at his camp and got high, he reportedly told police. (Security video showed him on a bike, apart from the group.)
Later, he testified, Burkley came to his camp looking like a ghost, saying McGowan beat Boone and tied him up, while Boone cried that he didn’t want to die.
McGowan arrived at Weidman’s camp after Burkley.
“He had hidden strength,” McGowan said, according to Weidman’s testimony.
The tree grew out of a hill. Boone was tied in a way that made it impossible for him to free himself. That morning, the temperature dipped to the 30s. An autopsy showed Boone died of hypothermia, well before a passerby found his body. He was 46.
The defense argued that Weidman — the “crown jewel” of the state’s witnesses — could not be trusted. He’d taken a plea deal to first-degree robbery, not murder. He agreed to testify against McGowan and Burkley, who is awaiting trial on charges of first-degree murder. The defense attorney argued Weidman quickly took the deal to save his own skin and get a lighter sentence, not because he was telling the truth.
“He got out while the getting was good,” Conom said, in a closing argument that lasted 1½ hours.
Weidman even admitted to deceiving Boone in this case, and had been planning another robbery that same night, the defense attorney noted. Weidman had a record of possessing stolen property, forgery and malicious mischief, and he faced a long term in prison if found guilty of murder.
McGowan had a criminal record, too. He’d been convicted of drug dealing, burglary, possessing a stolen vehicle, possessing a stolen firearm and failing to register as a sex offender. As a juvenile, he’d been convicted of first-degree child rape.
In the courtroom Friday, McGowan retraced his route on a large aerial map, pointing with his pinky finger. In his account of New Year’s morning, he let Weidman borrow his food stamp card to grab snacks at a mini mart on Broadway, and Weidman left him only a few cents on the card. Before they parted ways, McGowan said he smoked meth for the third time in a few hours.
Deputy prosecutor Toni Montgomery asked the defendant if violence was a common side effect of methamphetamine use. McGowan said it had that effect on some people. She asked if that was an effect it had on him. It did not, he said.
McGowan had no significant history with Boone, he testified.
“I don’t even think he knew my name,” he said.
After leaving the group, McGowan said, he smoked meth under a bridge, when he bumped into a friend from middle school. He could not recall the friend’s last name, he said.
“Were the events of January 1 memorable to you in some way?” Conom asked.
“It was just another night to me,” McGowan said.
The defense called no other witnesses. Jurors will begin deliberating Monday morning.
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snocaleb.