Matthew McGowan at the Snohomish County Courthouse on Jan. 30, 2020, in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Matthew McGowan at the Snohomish County Courthouse on Jan. 30, 2020, in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Sentence reduced 7 years for Everett man who tied man to tree to die

Matthew McGowan sought resentencing under a state Supreme Court ruling. Hundreds of other local defendants could follow.

EVERETT — A convicted murderer’s prison sentence was reduced by 7½ years Thursday, following a recent state Supreme Court decision.

A jury in November 2019 found Matthew McGowan guilty of first-degree murder for tying Michael Boone, 46, to a tree and leaving him to die in the cold at a secluded homeless camp off 41st Street in Everett.

The next February, he was sentenced to 45⅔ years.

About a year later, a state Supreme Court decision struck down Washington’s main drug possession statute. The ruling, known as the Blake decision, renders one of McGowan’s prior convictions moot, an appeals court decided.

This changed the sentencing range for McGowan, now 29. Under state guidelines, he faced a minimum of 34¼ years to 45⅔ years — the sentence he received. The Blake decision reduced both ends of the range by about three years.

Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Bruce Weiss handed McGowan a sentence of over 38 years Thursday. McGowan’s defense attorney pushed for just under 31 years in prison. A deputy prosecutor pushed for more than 41 years.

Hundreds of local defendants could get resentenced under the Blake ruling, Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell estimated Thursday. There are already about 200 pending resentencing. That number will only grow, he said.

“It’s going to take years,” Cornell said.

And about 70 people have already had their prison terms reduced under Blake in Snohomish County courts, the prosecutor said.

McGowan also appealed his conviction, arguing the trial court wrongfully admitted statements from Donita Burkley, who was also convicted in connection with the killing. The appeals court disagreed.

Burkley had been sentenced last year to three years and five months behind bars for second-degree manslaughter and second-degree robbery. Darron Weidman was sentenced to five years and one month in prison for setting in motion the robbery that resulted in Boone’s death.

McGowan testified at his trial that he had no part in Boone’s killing. In remarks delivered Thursday via video conference from prison, McGowan again maintained his innocence, but apologized to the victim’s family.

“I stand before you today humbled by the intricacies and fragility of life,” he said.

In the hours leading up to New Year’s Day 2019, Boone asked Weidman if he could help him to buy sex from 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 cash 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.

A passerby found Boone on Jan. 4, 2019, wearing only a shirt, underwear and one sock. He died of hypothermia, according to the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office. The death was classified as homicide.

Boone’s family listened to the hearing Thursday over Zoom.

Weiss said he was “very concerned” about Burkley’s sentence, given her role in the plot that ended in Boone’s death. He concluded McGowan should no longer get the sternest possible sentence.

“It does not amend or change the facts of the case,” Weiss said in court Thursday. He added: “Mr. Boone, although he was homeless, had a right to live like anybody else.”

Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; jake.goldstein-street@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

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