Verdict: Man guilty of fatally torturing girlfriend's autistic son
Matthew Christenson, accused of torturing his girlfriend's autistic teen so to death and abusing her younger son, was found guilty on all seven charges against him Thursday morning.
A King County jury spent just part of Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning deliberating before reaching a verdict about 10 a.m.
Christenson was found guilty of both homicide by abuse and second-degree murder for the 2014 death of Otto Smith, an 18-year-old young man with autism who functioned at the level of a toddler. Smith's brother, J.C., who was 13 at the time, was also abused under Christenson's rule.
Christenson met the boys' mother, special education teacher Pascia Backman, via Craigslist in January 2014. He and his 20-year-old son, who were living out of the son's car, moved into her apartment in unincorporated Auburn the night they met Backman.
Smith was dead within three months.
Backman, J.C. and Christenson's son Jordan Christenson testified that Christenson imposed his rule on the household within a week of moving in.
He forced the boys into hours of exercise, restricted their diets to starvation levels and forced them to take icy baths, according to the testimony.
Christenson also assaulted them, punching them repeatedly and even using a Taser on Smith at times. J.C. was forced to sleep on the bathroom floor with no heat, pillow or blanket.
He insisted to Backman that the boys were evil, Backman testified. He isolated her from her children, forbidding her to speak to them, touch them or look at them.
For her part, Backman was also assaulted, her diet controlled, and her drugs for anxiety and depression thrown away.
Smith was found dead in April 2014. Backman emerged from her bedroom in the middle of the night to find Smith duct taped from head to toe, covered in a sheet and upturned chaise lounge. Christenson stood by, drinking and smoking, Backman claimed.
Backman removed the duct tape from her son and pulled a sock from his mouth. She cleaned him up before calling 911. She and Christenson awoke J.C. so he could help them carry his body to the car and take him to St. Francis hospital, where he was declared dead. Staff believe he had been dead for some time.
Backman and Christenson told medical staff and authorities he died in his sleep. However, Backman told various authorities different stories about how Smith died.
Medical examiners initially ruled Smith's death natural.
However, it was eight months later during an episode in which she tried to escape Christenson that she finally told authorities that Smith was killed. She initially sent texts to Christenson intimating she was kidnapped, but responding police called Backman's bluff when they met her in Tacoma. It was at Tacoma General Hospital she told a social worker about Christenson's role in her son's death.
Christenson was arrested about a week later.
Christenson's defense attorney, Nicholas Marchi, pointed to Backman's repeated lies about Smith's condition while he was alive and after his death, disputing her credibility.
She also sent Christenson emails after the Tacoma episode, telling him she loved him and was sorry she lied to police and fabricated a murder story.
Indeed Backman covered for Christenson as police were called to check on J.C. and with social workers and medical staff who tried to treat Smith's injuries or find him respite care.
She since pleaded guilty to two counts of rendering criminal assistance in 2015.
Christenson was found guilty of homicide by abuse, second-degree murder, three counts of second-degree assault, unlawful imprisonment and felony harassment.
Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 6. He is currently jailed.
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