CLEVELAND — A former U.S. Marine and Iraq war veteran who shot a Twinsburg Township woman to death in the middle of a Solon intersection has been committed to a state psychiatric facility and will not go to prison.
Matthew R. Desha, 32, of North Ridgeville, pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity Thursday in the 2016 death of 53-year-old Deborah Pearl, of Twinsburg Township.
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Kathleen Sutula accepted the not guilty plea and ordered Desha sentenced to commitment at Northcoast Behavioral Healthcare in Sagamore Hills, according to Tyler Sinclair, a spokesman for the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office. The facility is operated by the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
Edward Mullin, one of Desha’s two attorneys, said Friday that the commitment is for an indefinite period of time and that because the judge accepted his client’s not guilty plea, Desha would not be sent to prison.
"Northcoast is where he’ll be evaluated over and over and over," said Mullin.
He said that whether Desha is ever released "will depend on his mental condition."
Desha is currently in Cuyahoga County Jail, where he has been held on a $1 million bond since his arrest more than two and a half years ago, said Mullin.
Desha was charged with murder, felonious assault, and discharge of a firearm in Pearl’s Aug. 27, 2016 death.
According to Solon police, Pearl was headed north on Richmond Road, driving to her job at South East Harley Davidson’s Harley Diner in Bedford Heights. Desha, driving a Jeep Grand Cherokee, was stopped in the eastbound lane of Solon Road at the Richmond Road intersection, when he suddenly drove left of center around several vehicles stopped in front of him, sped through the red light and crashed into Pearl’s Ford Taurus, witnesses told police.
The Jeep rolled over several times, finally coming to a stop upside down.
Witnesses report that Pearl was still inside her car when Desha exited his Jeep with an AR-15 rifle and fired four or five rounds at the Taurus. Pearl then got out of her car and Desha fired several more rounds at her, emptying the gun.
Desha suffered "bumps and scrapes" from the accident and refused medical treatment, police said.
First responders to the scene say Desha "appeared to be wildly delusional and erratic," according to Solon police.
Pearl was later pronounced dead at University Hospitals Bedford Medical Center.
During a competency hearing last year, three doctors who examined Desha testified the former U.S. Marine and Iraq veteran suffers from a host of mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, persecution delusions, substance use psychotic disorder, various substance use issues and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
However, the judge noted in a subsequent opinion that two of the doctors, one court appointed and the other a prosecution witness, said they believe that Desha could assist in his defense and he understood the proceedings against him, so she declared him competent to stand trial.
"It’s just a tragic case, a very sad case any way you look at it," said Mullin. "A very sad, sad case."
Desha reportedly served two tours in Iraq during his four-year stint in the U.S. Marine Corp between August 2004 and June 27, 2008.
Friends of Pearl’s said she had spent nearly five years as head cook at the Harley Diner. They said she had never missed a day’s work and was never late.
Chris Meyers, operations manager for the Harley-Davidson dealership, said Pearl was a "wonderful lady" who enjoyed listening to gospel music in the mornings.
Diana Allie, Pearl’s boss and friend, said she had a "big heart" and that they would sometimes "dance around the kitchen" when business was slow.
Pearl left behind her husband, Robert Murray, three children, five grandchildren, four sisters, a brother, and many friends.
Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at 330-541-9431, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JeffSaunders_RP.