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Confession takes center stage

The key piece of evidence in the murder trial of Michael David Mattson took center stage in Douglas County Circuit Court on Tuesday. The audiotape of Mattson's confession to the 1993 slaying of his girlfriend, Myrna Jean Clemons, starts like a co...

The key piece of evidence in the murder trial of Michael David Mattson took center stage in Douglas County Circuit Court on Tuesday. The audiotape of Mattson's confession to the 1993 slaying of his girlfriend, Myrna Jean Clemons, starts like a coffee date.

"Hi," Mattson says to Capt. Chad La Lor of the Superior Police Department. He is then introduced to Det. Kirk Hill.

"Hi there, nice to meet you," says Mattson.

The rambling two-hour interview on Oct. 23, 2006, touches on everything from Clemons' dying screams to football; trips to Arizona and California to wood stoves; what Joe Fox did on his farm outside of Proctor to Mattson's visit to Clemons' grave.

It starts quickly.

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"Well, it seems like you got a good case against me and all so I'm confessing to the murder," Mattson tells the officers. "Lock me up and throw away the key."

At the beginning of the interview, Mattson mentions that he can't make ends meet and he has no place to go.

"I want to be locked up," he says. "I do."

La Lor and Hill then dig into the interview, asking Mattson for details of the murder. He remembered Clemons wearing a worn blue bathrobe that was nearly white. He remembered his brother finishing off a box of chips in the truck that afternoon. And he remembered the attack.

"After we loaded up the truck, and we were getting ready to go, Jack was in the truck ... I went back in the house and got a piece of popple and hit Myrna in the head." Mattson said. Then, much more softly, he said, "That must have killed her."

At first, he couldn't recall why he did it. Maybe, he said, he was jealous that his brother was sharing his home with Clemons while he had to report to jail each night. Maybe it was triggered by the jail sentence he was serving.

"I'm a little mad at her, mad at her for turning me in for beating her up in November," Mattson said. "Maybe that came rushing in my head."

Mattson said he hit Clemons twice -- once on the forehead and once in the back of the head as she was falling down.

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"We did knock the chair over, screaming," Mattson said. "And she fell right by the door. I shut the door and left."

He also remembered burning the piece of wood he used to kill her.

When asked why he chose to turn himself in, Mattson said the guilt has been gnawing at him like a cancer for years.

"It's been wearing on me," he said. "She was a good woman and I just snapped that one time ... not just that one time ..."

At the beginning of the interview, his frustration once again surfaces.

"How hard is it to get arrested around here," he asked.

A videotaped interview between Mattson and John McKenzie, a retired detective for the Douglas County Sheriff's Department, about two weeks before the confession also focused on Mattson's guilty conscience. Mattson had written a letter to McKenzie insinuating his brother killed Clemons. McKenzie began the interview with friendly conversation and then went on the offensive.

"I thought Mike was ready to give it up," he testified. He didn't break that day, but some of the things McKenzie drilled him about -- such as clearing his guilty conscience -- resurfaced during the confession.

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In earlier testimony Tuesday, jurors learned that Clemons was killed by a severe blow to the back of her head with a blunt object, such as a bat or log. The brutal blow tore her scalp, shattered her skull, injured her brain and caused bleeding from her ears, nose and mouth, according to testimony by Dr. Donald Kundel.

Even if she would have received medical treatment immediately, Kundel testified, it would not have helped.

"Her injuries were so severe that she could not have survived them," he said.

And she never saw it coming. There were, the doctor said, no defensive wounds.

"That indicated the attack occurred out of the blue," said Kundel, a medical examiner with St. Louis County who has performed more than 5,000 autopsies.

He testified that the wounds were caused before her death, as evidenced by the large amount of blood that had pooled. Kundel estimated Clemons died between 12:45 and 2:45 p.m. Feb. 19, 1993. The blow that killed her may have landed hours prior to her death, he said.

Mattson, 56, is accused of first-degree murder for the murder. At the time of her death, he was serving time in the Douglas County jail for two previous assaults on Clemons. Mattson had been granted Huber work release to continue working at the scrap metal business the two shared in Allouez.

Mattson was originally charged in 1993 for Clemons' death, but the case was thrown out at the preliminary hearing stage due to lack of evidence.

The jury trial is expected to last through Friday.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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