Matthew Wetherington sentenced to life in prison

He pleaded guilty to aggravated murder Monday

Matthew Wetherington

Matthew Wetherington

PORT ANGELES — Matthew Timothy Wetherington has been sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for the murders of his wife, Valerie Kambeitz, and her three children.

Wetherington, 36, pleaded guilty Monday to two counts of first-degree aggravated murder for the killings at the Welcome Inn RV Park in west Port Angeles in July 2019.

The four victims — Valerie Kambeitz, 34, Lilly Kambeitz, 9, Emma Kambeitz, 6, and Jayden Kambeitz, 5 — died of blunt- or sharp-force trauma to the head before Wetherington set fire to the residence in the early morning hours of July 6, 2019, investigators said.

The bodies were found in the master bedroom of the charred mobile home. Wetherington was found camping at Lincoln Park several hours after the fire.

“This was a man with a plan for total annihilation of his family,” said Michele Devlin, Clallam County chief criminal deputy prosecuting attorney.

“He manipulated, conquered and destroyed Valerie, Emma, Lilly and Jayden.”

Wetherington was originally charged with four counts of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of first-degree arson. The amended charges were for the premeditated murders of all four victims.

Clallam County Superior Court Judge Brent Basden imposed a mandatory life sentence for Wetherington. The state Supreme Court ruled the death penalty was unconstitutional as applied in 2018.

Wetherington did not offer a statement after pleading guilty to the murders.

Six victim impact statements were made at the hearing.

“Your actions of brutally murdering a mother and her three children leave many with the unanswerable question of why,” Basden told Wetherington.

“And the painful truth is that the justice system doesn’t answer that question. All it does is represent a clear and unmistakable condemnation of your depravity.”

Defense attorney John Hayden said there was nothing his client could say that could assuage the victims’ grief.

“The only thing available to him was to stand up and take responsibility, and he’s done that,” Hayden said of the guilty pleas.

“He’s done the one thing available to him to deal with this entire situation, and I think that puts a period on it.”

Brenda Kambeitz said she was angry at Wetherington for what he had done to her sister, nieces and nephew.

She said Wetherington manipulated his way into Valerie’s family, taking advantage of her vulnerability after an abusive relationship.

Wetherington and Valerie Kambeitz were married on May 4, 2019.

“It’s not something you want to be right about, but I did not trust this man,” Brenda Kambeitz said.

“But even I have to admit, I did not expect this level of evil.”

Deborah Borden, Valerie’s mother, said she missed the hugs from her grandchildren.

“I still don’t understand why you did what you did,” Borden said, fighting back tears.

“I had to stand there and watch that place burn, which caused me a mild heart attack.

“I will never get to see my grandkids grow up or get married or have children,” Borden added.

“I won’t get to grow old with my daughter. I don’t understand why you had to do this to us.”

Devlin cited passages from Wetherington’s journal to argue that the murders were premeditated.

Port Angeles police said Wetherington made a journal entry at 3:28 p.m. July 5, 2019, nearly 11 hours before the fire, that said: “Preparations are merely complete. Just need to last another 11 hours before it really begins.”

“He had a plan,” Devlin said in court.

“He manipulated, conquered and destroyed this family, and almost 11 hours later he started the fire to cover up his heinous murder.”

After his arrest, Wetherington was alleged to have said: “I don’t understand how I could do something like this.”

“I deserve to be locked up.”

Port Angeles police investigated the murders with help from several local agencies, the FBI and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). It took five days to process the scene, Devlin said.

“This fire burned hot and quick, so quickly that it jumped to the adjoining trailer where a house-sitter was barely rescued and made it out before the trailer was consumed,” Devlin said.

Witnesses reported seeing Wetherington running from the burning trailer after hearing a loud boom, police said.

An ATF investigator found hydrocarbon in the master bedroom where the victims were found and gasoline on Wetherington’s shoes and socks, Devlin said.

A lack of soot in the victims’ airways indicated the deaths occurred prior to the fire, Devlin said.

Valerie Kambeitz had multiple sharp-force traumas to the head and spine. The three children each had blunt force trauma to the head, Devlin said.

Wetherington, a Level III sex offender, had previous felony convictions for first-degree child molestation, first-degree burglary with sexual motivation, first-degree attempted robbery, second-degree assault with sexual motivation and unlawful imprisonment with sexual motivation, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Steve Johnson said.

Hayden said his client would spend the rest of his life in prison “trying to reconcile the fact that he committed this horrific act.”

“This predatory and planned attack stole four lives from their family, the community and the world,” Devlin said.

“There will be no more birthdays, no more Christmases, no more smiles, no possible graduations, no possible weddings, no great grandchildren or grandchildren,” Devlin added.

“All those potentials were taken away by a man with a plan who manipulated, conquered and destroyed a family.”

Mark Nichols, Clallam County prosecuting attorney and ex-officio coroner, said the Wetherington case was “one of the most horrific cases in the history of this county.”

“Although no sentence could fully do justice for Valerie, Emma, Lilly, and Jayden, we hope that the sentence Mr. Wetherington received today will give their families some measure of peace as they try to rebuild their lives and remember their loved ones,” Nichols said in a Monday statement.

Wetherington was the second Clallam County jail inmate to receive a life sentence in recent weeks.

Ryan Warren Ward was sentenced Nov. 19 to life in prison with no possibility of parole for his role in a triple homicide east of Port Angeles in December 2018.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

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