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MEDIA: Russian Reaction to Matthey Sentencing

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  • MEDIA: Russian Reaction to Matthey Sentencing

    Russians see tragedy in Matthey jailings
    Say other children suffer for parents' guilt
    Sunday, July 25, 2004
    Star-Ledger Staff
    News of the sentencing of Robert and Brenda Matthey to 10 years in prison
    for child abuse in the hypothermia death of their adopted 7-year-old Russian
    son reached his homeland quickly.

    The Russians reached by The Star-Ledger hold the Mattheys responsible for
    the death of Viktor Alexander Matthey and believe they deserve to be
    punished, but they also worry about the effect a long prison term will have
    on their remaining children.

    "It is impossible to return Viktor, but it is important to care about other
    children," said Lyubov Alexandrovna Bolshakova, head of the Department of
    Education in Svobodniy, the town in the Russian Far East where Viktor lived
    in an orphanage until his adoption by the Mattheys. "That is why I am not
    for the long imprisonment. The children need their parents."

    The Department of Education is responsible for the operation of orphanages
    in Russia. Bolshakova said it is hard to determine exactly what the proper
    outcome should be.

    "The world is very contradictory," she said. "And this is a very difficult
    question. On the one hand, as a pedagogue, I understand this is very cruel
    treatment of the child. They are undoubtedly guilty, to put the child into a
    restricted space. But on the other hand, I feel that I have no right to
    judge them. It is for the law court to judge them."

    Larisa Vasilievna Nesterova, a retired teacher from Viktor's orphanage, said
    she isn't sure what punishment would be fitting for the Mattheys, who were
    found in guilty in May of three counts of endangering the welfare of a

    "I'm sure they have done a crime," she said. "The boy died. They must be
    punished, but in a way not to make the other children to be unhappy."

    Her daughter, Natasha Gilyova, 36, a schoolteacher who was in Svobodniy to
    visit her mother, was more harsh. She had followed the case by reading
    newspaper articles.

    "They must be punished, must be put into prison," she said. "For such deeds,
    people must be in prison, never mind Russians or Americans. They are so
    devout, and so heartless! And such lies! To try to blame the boy's death on

    The Mattheys are members of a fundamentalist Christian church in Raritan
    Township, and they were supported by church members throughout the trial and
    at sentencing.

    Lyudmila Petrovna Mechenkova, director of the orphanage, is also angry about
    what happened to Viktor. She learned from watching a program produced by
    Moscow TV that Viktor's body was cremated after his death.

    "Why did they cremate him?" she said. "To cover up their tracks of crime?"

    She remembered Viktor as a "handsome, clever boy" who was never ill, other
    than an occasional cold. The Mattheys' lawyers said in court Viktor was
    frequently hospitalized and suffered from various mental, emotional and
    physical conditions.

    The Mattheys adopted Viktor, who was Viktor Tulimov at the time, and his
    younger twin brothers in December 1999. Viktor died of cardiac arrest
    brought on by hypothermia in October 2000, and the Mattheys were charged
    with aggravated manslaughter and other crimes.

    The jury deadlocked over the manslaughter charges, but it found the Mattheys
    guilty of three counts of endangering the welfare of a child. They were
    sentenced to terms of 10 years each on two of the counts and seven years
    each on the third count, all terms to run consecutively. The judge said it
    is possible they will be released from prison in less than two years.

    Elena Korotckova, editor of the Svobodniy newspaper "Zeiskie Ogni," used the
    case to ask questions of her fellow Russians in an editorial.

    "It is hardly important for us now how many years -- 10 or 30 -- this
    fascinating couple, who seemed very sincerely to want to make the Tulimov
    brothers happy when the boys became unwanted in Russian, will stay in

    "It is more important to learn lessons from this history," she wrote. "And
    to answer a very simple question: Why, in any case, children are being
    brought away from our country? Do we need to send our orphaned children
    abroad to seek happiness, depriving them of the most sacred -- their

    Vera Ovchar, a retired teacher who is now a journalist, has followed the
    case closely.

    "I would like this case to be over as soon as possible," she said. "I am so
    sorry. My heart bleeds for the boy when I am reading and translating the
    materials. I want them to be put in prison, but not for 30 years. Their
    children need them, and we heard from the witness Svetlana Lekomsteva (who
    testified during the trial) that the twins love their adopted parents. And I
    am still waiting for them to repent. And that the boy's ashes will be

    Robert Valentinovich Kaminsky, the mayor of Svobodniy, said he continues to
    be saddened by the case.

    "Such a pity that we can't get back the boy," he said. He recently visited
    Vermont as a participant in the Open World program organized by the Library
    of Congress. There, he saw adopted children from Russia living with American

    "Believe me -- they are happy," he said. "The tragic death of Viktor Tulimov
    is an isolated case. But the whole America knows about it."