UNION, NJ — The Union man who killed his girlfriend, cut up her body and disposed of most of it in five garbage bags near the Pulaski Skyway in Newark more than four years ago was sentenced to 70 years in prison Monday, Dec. 18.
Matthew Ballister, 47, turned his back in protest on Superior Court Judge Stuart Peim right before Peim announced the sentencing.
The judge then had Ballister, dressed in gray prison-issued fatigues, removed in handcuffs to an anteroom off the courtroom to listen to the sentencing via loudspeaker.
“I have handled many murder trials, and all of them involved brutal murders,” Peim said. However, this case was different, this was “barbaric and vile,” he declared.
To butcher and dispose of someone reflects “no sense of decency or humanity,” he added.
Ballister must serve at least 85 percent of a 62-year sentence for the murder of April Wyckoff before the possibility of parole, in addition to a consecutively applied eight-year sentence for desecration of human remains, the Union County Prosecutor’s Office said in a press release.
Referring to the evidence during the six-week trial that ended with the guilty verdict Oct. 18, Peim pointed to the 9-1-1 phone call in which Wyckoff could be heard yelling, “I’m going to die. He’s coming back.”
“You heard the victim’s screams moments before she was murdered,” Peim said. He also referred to testimony that parts of Wyckoff’s body have still not been found.
During the trial, officials said that only some of the victim’s dismembered body parts were located after her death. Limbs and other parts of Wyckoff’s body were found in five black garbage bags by police along Raymond Boulevard in Newark days after she was killed on Oct. 22, 2013.
“We had a funeral without her full body,” Wyckoff’s sister, Sheila Schenesky, read from a statement before Peim announced the sentence.
Statements from multiple family members were read into the record prior to the sentencing, including letters from Wyckoff’s own children. Many of the letters urged the court to invoke a life sentence without parole in order “to serve justice,” they said. A life sentence without parole does not exist in New Jersey.
The 43-year-old Wyckoff, a mother of two from Cranford, was killed at Ballister’s Union home in what he described as an accident. He said he unknowingly ran over her as she hid behind his SUV and then dismembered her body in his garage during a fit of “drug-induced hysteria.”
After the victim’s family statements were read, Ballister blamed Peim and the criminal justice system for not giving him ”a fair and just trial.”
“To say I showed no remorse would not be truthful, or congruent with what went on,” Ballister contended.
He also blamed his attorney, Thomas Russo, for not having brought in any character witnesses on his behalf to attest to his relationship with Wyckoff. And, despite Ballister having asked his lawyer to obtain a medical witness to testify to the effects of drugs on his mental state at the time of the crime, no such witness testified.
The only witness Russo brought to the stand during the trial was Ballister himself.
Then, as Peim was about to begin pronouncing sentence, Ballister, in the jury box,
turned his back on the judge “to protest the injustice,” saying he was “not going to submit to the injustice.”
Peim ordered Ballister handcuffed to a table in the court’s anteroom, where he listened to the sentencing over the sound system.
“Despite what I heard, you had a fair and just trial. You complained for four years to avoid going to trial,” the judge said, referring to the trial’s four-year delay.
Peim added that Ballister had fired several competent attorneys, and that his trial was handled by a an attorney who had made reasonable decisions.
Ballister spent the four years leading up to trial in Union County Jail with his bail set at $5.5 million.
Ballister’s mother, 74-year-old Eleanor Schofield of Mountainside, remains charged with fourth-degree hindering apprehension for allegedly interfering with the investigation by attempting to assist in her son’s efforts to conceal evidence of the crime, according to a press release from the Union County Prosecutor’s Office.