- Associated Press - Friday, September 12, 2014

DOVER, Del. (AP) - A federal judge removed himself Friday from the stalking trial of relatives of a man who killed two people at a Delaware courthouse and ordered that the case be transferred outside Delaware.

Judge Gregory Sleet’s ruling came a week after prosecutors joined a defense request for Sleet to remove himself and asserted that the judge’s name was included on a “hit list” found in the car of gunman Thomas Matusiewicz.

The ruling also came several months after Sleet rejected a defense request to move the scheduled March trial of Matusiewicz’s widow and children to another state. The defense sought the move because of concerns about extensive media coverage tainting the Delaware jury pool.

Chief U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Stark has asked the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for a judge to be assigned from outside Delaware, according to Sleet’s ruling.

David Matusiewicz, his mother, Lenore, and his sister, Amy Gonzalez, are charged with conspiracy and stalking of David Matusiewicz’s ex-wife, Christine Belford. They could face life in prison if convicted of stalking that resulted in Belford’s death.

Belford and a friend were fatally shot by Thomas Matusiewicz in February 2013 at the New Castle County courthouse in Wilmington. Thomas Matusiewicz then exchanged gunfire with security officers before killing himself.

Prosecutors claim that David Matusiewicz conspired with his parents and sister over several years to torment and stalk his ex-wife with the intent to injure, harass, intimidate and kill her.

But Thomas Matusiewicz’s family members have denied knowing that he intended to kill Belford.

Jeremy Ibrahim, an attorney for Gonzalez who had asked that the trial be transferred to another district, said he was gratified by Friday’s ruling.

Prosecutor Jamie McCall declined to comment, as did a public defender representing David Matusiewicz.

Prosecutors informed Sleet about the purported “hit list” in April but told him at that time that they didn’t believe there had been any imminent threat of harm to him or anyone else named in the document. They waited until last week to provide additional information and to join the defense motion for Sleet’s recusal, which did not sit well with the judge.

“Allowing for the possibility that the government’s view of the merits of the defendants’ motion has evolved over the four month period … the court is somewhat nonplussed by the government’s late mention of additional facts …,” Sleet wrote.

Sleet also noted that defense attorneys have not conceded that the document containing his name was a “hit list,” saying such a conclusion, as asserted by prosecutors, is “speculative.”

But the judge expressed concern that prosecutors did not reveal until last week that the notebook containing the purported hit list also included notes about people involved in a fraud and kidnapping case against David Matusiewicz over which Sleet presided, and Family Court proceedings that culminated in the termination of Matusiewicz’s parental rights.

“This is the kind of information, along with the government’s view of its significance, which should have been provided to everyone involved in the case at the outset,” wrote Sleet, adding that the “prudent course” is for a judge from outside Delaware to preside over the case.

David Matusiewicz pleaded guilty in 2009 to federal fraud and kidnapping charges after he and his mother took his daughters to Central America. Lenore Matusiewicz served more than a year in state prison for her role in the kidnapping. The Matusiewicz family has said they were trying to protect one of the daughters from being sexually abused by Belford, an assertion Sleet said at the time had not been proven.

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