ST. JOSEPH — A man who in January 2018 shot and killed his female companion of 30 years will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.
Berrien County Trial Court Judge Gordon Hosbein sentenced William Edwards, 39, to 70-120 years for the murder of Novena Mathis.
“It seems like someone took my heart out of my chest and ripped it away, for no apparent reason,” Mary Caldwell, Mathis’ mother, said during a sentencing hearing for Edwards Monday. “My daughter was a gift from God and I raised my children in church. Because of the God I serve, I have to forgive him, but I don’t want this man ever to be free.”
A Berrien County jury on Sept. 20, following a two-week trial, found Edwards guilty of second-degree murder and some lesser firearms-related charges in the death of Mathis. He and his lawyers, Chief Public Defender Christopher Renna and Assistant Public Defender Jennifer Fields, contended throughout his trial that he shot Novena Mathis in self-defense.
According to testimony, Edwards shot Mathis in her car outside Harbor Towers in Benton Harbor on Jan. 8, 2018. Her body was found the next day in her car, which had been moved to the parking lot at Hayward Wells townhouse complex. He and his lawyers said he shot Mathis because she was reaching into a purse in which he knew her to carry a knife.
“How dare he come in here and make her look like she ... she didn’t do anything to him. He hated my granddaughter, and he knew she was going to choose her daughter that night. For him to sit in this courtroom and breathe the same air we are, that’s not fair,” Mary Caldwell told the judge. “Nothing you do to him is going to be enough for me. He’s an animal.”
Jimmy Caldwell Jr., Novena’s brother, said Edwards had been around their family for almost 30 years.
“We accepted him when no one else would, even his own family. Then he took a life from us. He took a part of us we can never get back,” he told the judge. To Edwards, Caldwell said, “You tried to make her look like a bad person when she was the only one would ever stand up for you (during prior court cases.) Throughout your whole trial no one came to support you because we were all you had. We were all the family you dad. Thirty years, man, and you betray our family.”
Novena’s daughter, Dasha Mathis, although she was aware her mother and Edwards had quarrelled over matters involving her, said, “Through all of this I’ve never known why you did this. This wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t my mother’s fault, and I want to know why you did this. The day you killed her you tortured me all day.”
Throughout the day Dasha was looking for her mother, Edwards kept telling her she would be home soon. According to testimony, he called Dasha and her little brother at one point and told them to clean the house, saying, “We’re on our way.”
Berrien Assistant Prosecutor Jane Wainwright asked Judge Hosbein to fashion a sentence of at least 60 years for Edwards.
Novena Mathis’ family packed the courtroom for Edwards’ sentencing hearing.
“I was struck by how big and beautiful this family is and now this family is forever shattered,” Wainwright said. “He’s a cold-blooded killer. He told his mother he killed her because she was recording his drug deals.”
Renna disputed that Edwards was intent on killing Mathis.
“They obviously have a much different view of things than we do,” he said. “We ask that you fashion a sentence that would allow him at some point to be eligible for parole. He’s a 40-year-old man.”
Renna objected to a probation officer’s statement in a pre-sentence investigation report that Edwards showed no remorse.
“I’ve spent hundreds of hours with him and he has a lot of remorse. That statement from a probation officer after a 15-minute interview was inappropriate,” Renna said. He said he and Fields had strongly advised Edwards to remain stoic, respectful and calm in the courtroom.
The judge agreed the statement should be stricken from the report and said, “(Edwards) does maintain the right to remain silent.”
Hosbein told the family there is nothing he can say or do that will bring back their loved one.
“Domestic violence is an epidemic and all too often these end in this way,” he said. With that, he pronounced a sentence for the murder charge that was on the high end of the guideline range for Edwards, which was 270 to 900 months (22 1/2 to 75 years).
Besides the 70-120 year sentence for the second-degree murder charge, Edwards was given two concurrent terms of 6-40 years for possession of a firearm by a felon and carrying a concealed weapon; and two consecutive and preceding terms of 2 years for two counts of weapons felony firearms. He’ll get credit for 658 days served.
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