JESSUP, Md. (FOX 5 DC) - A man convicted in the rape and murder of a 14-year-old Prince George’s County girl has been released from prison Tuesday after serving less than nine years behind bars.
In 1996, Nia Owens was sexually assaulted and strangled on her way to Northwestern High School in Hyattsville.
After more than a decade, police arrested Matthew Bethea in 2010. He was convicted of second-degree murder, but he got a plea deal, making what’s known as an Alford Plea, where a suspect maintains his or her innocence.
Because of the plea deal, Bethea was sentenced to 15 years in prison. The sexual assault charges were dropped. His sentence was eventually reduced even more for good behavior, and now, he walks away as a free man who doesn’t have to register as a sex offender.
Owens’ mother, Angela Wood, told FOX 5 Monday she can’t comprehend such a minimal penalty for such a horrendous crime.
“It was the most horrible day of my entire life. Never do I wish that on a parent,” said Wood. “And that’s why am fighting today to change legislation- a murderer should not be allowed to serve less than nine years.”
In a statement released Monday, Prince George’s County State's Attorney Aisha Braveboy said her office was unable to prevent Bethea’s release.
"I understand that Ms. Wood is outraged that Matthew Bethea is being released. I am disappointed as well. In October 2016, a hearing was held for Mr. Bethea in which he was denied parole. Mr. Bethea is now being released, by law, as a result of diminution credits that he accrued,” said Braveboy.
FOX 5’s Lindsay Watts reports that police say a second person’s DNA was found on Owens' body.
Wood believes her daughter was sexually assaulted by two men. That unknown DNA was put in the national database known as CODIS, but there’s never been a match.
"If a match is found our office will assist in the investigation and determine the next steps,” said Braveboy.