Federal prosecutors agree judge should be recused from trial of courthouse gunman's relatives

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DOVER, Delaware — Government prosecutors have joined with defense attorneys in asking that a federal judge in Wilmington recuse himself from the upcoming trial of relatives of a man who killed two people at a Delaware courthouse.

In court papers filed Friday, prosecutors agreed that Judge Gregory Sleet should recuse himself because his name is one of 16 included on a supposed "hit list" that was found in the car of gunman Thomas Matusiewicz and which is expected to be a key government exhibit in the prosecution of Matusiewicz's widow and children.

A defense motion seeking Sleet's recusal was filed in July but remains under seal. Sleet earlier rejected defense motions to move the trial to another state because of possible juror prejudice based on extensive news media coverage of the case.

David Matusiewicz, his mother, Lenore, and sister, Amy Gonzalez, are charged with conspiracy and stalking of David Matusiewicz's ex-wife, Christine Belford. They are scheduled to be tried in March and could face life in prison if convicted of stalking charges resulting in Belford's death.

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

Thomas Matusiewicz's widow and children have repeatedly denied having any knowledge of his plans to kill Belford.

But federal prosecutors claim the three defendants conspired over more than three years, starting in December 2009, to harass, intimidate and stalk Belford and her family. Prosecutors said the three accused Belford in email communications and Internet postings of abusing and neglecting the three daughters she had with David Matusiewicz.

In a case presided over by Sleet, 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 Delaware state prison for child endangerment 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 that Sleet said had not been proven.

In Friday's filing, prosecutors point out Sleet's involvement in the 2009 case and the inclusion of his name on the purported "hit list" of lawyers, judges and witnesses involved in the 2009 kidnapping case and in a subsequent Family Court case that resulted in the termination of David Matusiewicz's parental rights.

While not suggesting that Sleet harbored any actual bias against the defendants, prosecutors noted that recusal is required when a reasonable person could believe that a judge appears to have a bias.

"Based on the totality of the circumstances here, the government respectfully submits that a reasonable person could question the court's impartiality upon learning that the court was a potential target for violence or murder by the defendants or their deceased coconspirator," prosecutors wrote.

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