COVID-19 pandemic delays murder trial

Matthew Wetherington, left, appears on video in Clallam County Superior Court Monday. Wetherington, accused of killing his wife and three children, was ordered held in the Clallam County jail on $5 million bail.

Matthew Wetherington, left, appears on video in Clallam County Superior Court Monday. Wetherington, accused of killing his wife and three children, was ordered held in the Clallam County jail on $5 million bail.

PORT ANGELES — The COVID-19 pandemic is delaying the processing of evidence for the Clallam County Superior Court trial of Matthew Timothy Wetherington, who is charged with four counts of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of first-degree arson in the deaths of his wife and three stepchildren.

Wetherington, a registered sex offender who joked with his attorney Friday over not wearing a face mask in the jail’s inmate holding room, had his status hearing continued to 1:30 p.m. May 15 by Judge Brian Coughenour.

On July 6, 2019, the 35-year-old Port Angeles resident allegedly killed 34-year-old Valerie Kambeitz and her children, who were 5, 6 and 9 years old, before setting fire to their Welcome Inn Trailer Park home in west Port Angeles.

His trial, originally set for Sept. 9, 2019, now is scheduled for Oct. 5.

All five charges carry maximum penalties of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

He is being held in the county jail on $5 million bail.

Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Michele Devlin said at the hearing Friday that evidence that had to be processed was moved from the State Patrol lab to an FBI lab.

The transfer was made in hopes processing would occur sooner than the 19 months than Devlin was informed it would take, she said.

“Everything now, with COVID, it seems like there’s reduced work levels at all the labs,” Devlin said.

“We are still pushing forward, hoping to go forward in October.”

Wetherington is represented by Port Angeles lawyer John Hayden of Clallam Public Defender.

“Yeah that makes sense,” Hayden told Coughenour.

“None of us saw this coming, so we are just kind of inventing as we go along.”

Wetherington has been convicted of first-degree child molestation, first-degree burglary with sexual motivation, first-degree robbery, second-degree assault and unlawful imprisonment.

Sheriff’s Deputy Brandon Stoppani had distributed flyers in the trailer park shortly before the murders notifying residents that Wetherington was a convicted sex offender and was living in the area, according to the probable cause statement.

He had married Kambeitz May 4.

“I love my wife very much,” he told Port Angeles Police Detective David Arand, according to the probable cause statement.

“I loved my kids. I don’t understand how I could do something like this.”

Jefferson County Sheriff’s detectives Derek Allen and Trevor Dropp, who assisted in the investigation, found Wetherington’s notebook at his campsite in Lincoln Park in Port Angeles, where he was arrested.

The notebook read: “All my mind keeps asking is ‘why?’ ‘Why’ One of the things that keep replaying in my mind’s eye is the first thing my wife said ‘What am I doing … What am I doing? Indeed, why did I do it? Why, indeed …’”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected] peninsuladailynews.com.

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