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: Platte County Prosecuting Attorney "Eric Zahnd"

Date: September 04, 2008

Child sodomizer gets 40 years despite Sentencing Advisory Commission recommendation

Child sodomizer gets 40 years despite Sentencing Advisory Commission recommendation Zahnd calls Commission’s recommended sentences “shameful”

A Texas man was sentenced to 40 years in prison for sodomizing two children despite a Missouri Sentencing Advisory Commission recommendation of the minimum 10-year sentence.  A Platte County jury found Matthew D. Upchurch, 20, guilty of two counts of first degree statutory sodomy of a 3-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl following a June trial.

Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd said, “This man clearly deserves every day of this 40-year sentence.  He sexually abused two very young children and then forced them to relive their trauma by testifying about it in court.  It is shameful that Missouri’s Sentencing Advisory Commissioners would recommend the minimum sentence under these circumstances.”

The Sentencing Advisory Commission was created to study sentencing practices in Missouri and develop recommended sentences for every crime.  Its recommendations are not binding on judges. 

Matthew Upchurch Photo
Matthew D. Upchurch

Zahnd has become an outspoken critic of the Commission’s recommended sentences, contending they are far too lenient.  He said the recommended sentence for most child sex crimes is the minimum possible sentence.  In addition, the “mitigated” recommendation for second-degree murder is a “community-structured sentence,” essentially probation with house arrest or treatment. 

“Now, I am not exactly sure what the Sentencing Commissioners feel a “mitigated” murder would be, but I do know this:  any sentencing system that recommends house arrest for a murderer is preposterous,” Zahnd said.

Judge Abe Shafer ignored the Sentencing Commissioner’s recommendation and imposed the 40-year prison sentence on two counts recommended by the jury.  He ordered the two sentences to run concurrently.

Under Missouri law, the sentence for first degree statutory sodomy of a child under the age of 12 is 10 years to life in prison.  Upchurch must serve 85% of his sentence before becoming eligible for parole.  

Upchurch was 16 and living in Kansas City when he abused the two children.  He moved to Texas in spring 2005 with his mother and her boyfriend.  He waived extradition and was returned to Missouri, where he was certified to stand trial as an adult.

Prosecutors proved at trial that Upchurch began sexually abusing the children in February 2003. The abuse lasted until June 2005, when it was revealed by the children.  The victims testified that Upchurch told them not to tell or he would get in trouble.

Zahnd said, “The Sentencing Commission’s recommendations are appalling.  While the idea of bringing uniformity to criminal sentences sounds like a good idea, uniformly giving child predators the minimum sentence is absurd.  The public should be outraged at these recommended sentences, because they are ridiculously low.”

The case was investigated by the Platte County Sheriff’s Department.  The trial was handled by Assistant Prosecutors Robin Threlkeld and Lindsey Mills.

A photo of Upchurch is attached.  If you have any questions or need additional information, please feel free to contact our office’s media liaison, Jill Brockman.

Eric G. Zahnd
Platte County Prosecuting Attorney
415 Third Street
Suite 60
Platte City, Missouri  64079
(816) 858-3476
(816) 858-3472 (fax)

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