ST. JOSEPH — The case of a Benton Harbor man on trial in the shooting death of his longtime companion is in the hands of a Berrien County jury.
William Edwards, 38, is charged with open murder in the shooting death of Novena Mathis, 38.
Under the open murder charge, Berrien County Trial Court Judge Gordon Hosbein instructed the jury on the elements of first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory penalty of life in prison without parole; and second-degree murder, which carries a penalty of life or any term of years. Edwards is further charged with possession of a firearm by a felon, carrying a concealed weapon and two counts of weapons felony firearms.
The jury began deliberating just before 1 p.m. Thursday following closing arguments in the case, which has lasted about two weeks. Around 4:30 p.m. the judge sent the panel home for the night with an instruction to return at 8:30 a.m. today to resume deliberations.
It is alleged that Edwards shot Mathis in the head at close range in the early morning hours of Jan. 7, 2018, while the two sat in her car parked outside Harbor Towers in Benton Harbor. Then he allegedly drove her car to the parking lot at the Hayward Wells townhouses and left it there, with her body inside. The car was found the morning of Jan. 8 with Mathis dead of a single gunshot wound to the head.
Berrien Assistant Prosecutor Jane Wainwright called Edwards a cold-blooded killer who acts without emotion or pity. She said the case was about him losing power over Mathis and being angry about it.
“This was not self-defense,” she said in her closing argument to the jury Thursday.
She said if Mathis was digging through her purse for a hatchet as Edwards has claimed, he would have had enough time to get out of the car.
“He had plenty of time to do a million other things while she was digging through that bag,” Wainwright told the jury.
Edwards’ lawyer, Chief Public Defender Christopher Renna, told the jury in his closing argument that Edwards pulled out a gun and accidentally shot Mathis during a struggle after she reached into her purse. He said she was known to carry a hatchet with which she had seriously injured Edwards in a previous fight.
“He doesn’t say that he saw the hatchet. If you were going to make up a story, wouldn’t you say you saw the hatchet, raised, ready to hit you?” Renna said in his closing argument.
Edwards told police he had stolen the hatchet from Mathis’ bag after he shot her. But investigators testified that they found the hatchet at the bottom of the woman’s large purse.
Wainwright contends that Edwards claimed he took the hatchet because although he claimed she was reaching for a hatchet, he had not actually seen it and in fact didn’t know whether she had a weapon when he shot her.
Jimmie Caldwell Jr., Mathis’ younger brother, said he met Edwards at age 9 or 10, before Mathis and Edwards started dating. He said they spent hours playing together in the area of Summitt and Jefferson streets, an area that overlooks Harbor Towers and the parking lot where Novena Mathis was fatally shot.
Mathis and Edwards had met at age 12 and, according to family members, had a tumultuous relationship that was on and off over the years. They had two children together.
Caldwell said he had distanced himself from Edwards when Edwards started selling drugs, and does not know why his sister kept going back to him.
“I guess you can’t help who you love. But when it’s toxic like that, it’s hard to say why someone keeps going back,” Caldwell said outside the courtroom.
Contact: jswidwa@TheHP.com, 932-0359, Twitter: @HPSwidwa