Man who murdered Prince George's County teen to walk free after serving less than 9 years

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Matthew Bethea

A man who murdered a Prince George’s County teenager will walk free Tuesday after serving less than nine years in prison.

Nia Owens, 14, was sexually assaulted and strangled on her way to Northwestern High School in Hyattsville in 1996.

It took more than a decade for police to make an arrest. Matthew Bethea was convicted of second-degree murder in 2010, but he got a plea deal, making what’s known as an Alford Plea where a suspect maintains his or her innocence. 

Because of that, he was sentenced to 15 years and the sex assault charges were dropped. 

Bethea’s sentence was reduced even more for good behavior, meaning he’ll be freed this week after serving just eight years, and he doesn’t have to register as a sex offender.

“I feel like closing my door, shutting my windows and pulling down my shades,” said Angela Wood, Nia’s mother. “I’ve kind of isolated myself for a long time and I’m sure it’s not going to get any better.”

She pointed out that because Bethea won’t have to register as a sex offender, no one will know where he’s living.

“More than anything, I’m hoping he doesn’t get a chance to prey on other people’s children,” Wood said.

In a statement, Prince George’s County States Attorney Aisha Braveboy said her office cannot 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.

A spokesperson for Braveboy tells FOX 5 that because this case goes back two administrations, they can’t say why Bethea granted a plea deal. 

Wood says 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,” she said. “And that’s why am fighting today to change  legislation- a murderer should not be allowed to serve less than nine years.”

Another element of this case — police say a second person’s DNA was found on the victim.

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.