The Ashburn man who gunned down his ex-wife’s husband 15 months ago will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Loudoun Circuit Court Judge Burke F. McCahill handed down that sentence Tuesday following two days of testimony from family members, investigators and a psychiatric expert.
Minh Nguyen pleaded no contest last July to charges of first-degree murder, malicious wounding, burglary, destruction of property and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
Facts in the case show that Nguyen was in a rage when he banged on the door of Corey and Denise Mattison’s Ashburn townhouse and demanded entry. He was carrying a .380 caliber Taurus semi-automatic pistol and fired one shot before pushing through the door. He then fired the pistol’s remaining rounds, shooting Corey Mattison four times. Mattison was able to exit the home before falling on the driveway.
Nguyen followed him, striking his former wife in the head with the butt of the gun as he passed her in the garage. Nguyen got in a car and drove around in a circle—prosecutors said it might have been an attempt to run over Mattison—before crashing. He then got out and punched Mattison in the head as he lay dying.
What factors triggered the violent deadly attack was the subject of debate during much of the hearing Monday and Tuesday.
Nguyen and Denise Mattison separated in 2010 and divorced in 2011. The mediation resulted in an agreement that included terms of custody for their three children. Among the conditions was a clause that Denise Mattison said was designed to ensure the children would not be left in the care of a specific family because of concerns Nguyen had about them. The family was not named in the document.
Later, Nguyen claimed the agreement forbad Denise Mattison from leaving their children with any third party. After Denise met and married Corey Mattison in 2014, Nguyen’s enforcement of that clause became obsessive.
On Jan. 15, 2015, the obsession turned fatal.
Nguyen showed up at the townhouse about 8 p.m. and asked to see the children. The oldest was at a school event and the younger two were sleeping. Nguyen offered to pick their daughter up at school and bring her home, but Denise Mattison said she would do it.
After Nguyen left, Denise and Corey discussed whether to put the two children in the van before making a short trip to the school. Normally they would, to avoid a confrontation with her ex-husband. On that night Denise said Corey told her that they had to stop living in fear of Nguyen’s threats. He would watch the kids while she went to the school.
Nguyen also went to the school and escorted his daughter to mom’s waiting van. He saw the van was empty.
He turned and ran to the Mattison home, arriving at the front door seconds later, according to the testimony. With his pistol in hand, he banged on the door demanding entry.
Within seconds, their lives changed forever.
Taking the stand Monday, Denise described Nguyen as manipulative and controlling, both during their marriage and after she found love and made a new life with Corey and his two children from a previous marriage. She and the children feared Nguyen’s temper.
“I thought that that ‘happily ever after’ was about to begin,” Denise Mattison said about her relationship with Corey. At times, she said she puts blame on herself for his death.
“He lost his life because he chose to love us and that is the only thing he ever did wrong,” she said.
At the time of her husband’s death, neither knew she was pregnant. Their daughter, whom she named Corey, was born last summer.
A key defense witness during the sentencing hearing was Charles Ewing, a forensic psychologist from the University at Buffalo Law School. He was retained to determine whether Nguyen was insane at the time of the shooting. Ewing said he was not. He was, however, “psychotically obsessed” with the belief that, under the divorce agreement, his wife could not leave the children with anyone other than him.
Ewing agreed that Nguyen misinterpreted the document. “He was out of touch with reality,” he said.
Nguyen had been treated since his youth for Attention Deficit Disorder, but Ewing said he should have been treated for bi-polar disorder and extreme depression, brought on by the failures in his marriage and in business and fears of losing his children.
On the day of the shooting, Ewing said, Nguyen “just snapped” when he realized Denise had left two of their children at home with Corey.
Ewing concluded that Nguyen did not pose a threat to the community in general, but prosecutors questioned whether the one day he spent interviewing the defendant was adequate to reach that conclusion.
In the end, McCahill agreed with prosecutors that a life sentence was warranted in the case.
The judge described the incident as a lose-lose. A tragedy for Denise, for Corey’s mother and children, for Nguyen’s children, Nguyen and for society.
“When we have a citizen that is lost in this fashion, society looks to the courts for justice,” he said.
The judge quoted a psychologist who treated Nguyen just hours before the shooting who said she never would have thought he was a threat to himself or others. “So much for predictions,” McCahill said, referring to Ewing’s statment. “In the end, this is about holding you accountable and protecting the safety of the public.”
In addition to the life sentence on the murder charge, Nguyen will serve 10 years for burglary, five years for destruction of property, five years for malicious wounding, and three years for use of a firearm, to be served consecutively.
Nguyen, dressed in red-and-white stripped scrubs with the words “Loudoun County Prisoner” on his back, gave a several minute statement before the judge read the sentencing. Between speaking, Nguyen sobbed loudly and hunched over, trying to catch his breath. “I place blame for this squarely at my feet,” he said.
He recounted the testimony from family members and friends who described Corey as kind, compassionate and generous. “If I wouldn’t have killed him I probably would have liked him,” Nguyen said. “I just want to say I’m sorry. … I’m sorry for everybody’s grief on both sides.”