Hacke family hopes to block parole for son's killer

| Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, 11:11 a.m.

Seventeen years after he was fatally shot in a car seat in West Homestead, Ryan Hacke's family wants to prevent parole for the man who killed the 14-month-old boy.

So far, at least 4,000 signatures are reported on a petition urging state officials to deny parole for Vaughn Mathis, now 39, formerly of Wilkinsburg. He is serving 17½ to 43 years in prison.

Included is nine to 18 years for involuntary manslaughter, a firearms violation and three counts of reckless endangerment in the Jan. 11, 1997, shooting of Ryan.

All that could mean a release from prison for Mathis no earlier than July 23, said a spokeswoman for the Board of Probation and Parole.

“He is tentatively scheduled to be interviewed for parole in March,” Sherry Tate said. “We interview offenders prior to their minimum sentence date. If they are granted parole they cannot be released prior to that date.”

A specific date was not available for that interview, but the Hacke family is seeking its say.

“On Feb. 18, 2014, my family and I will be traveling to Harrisburg to address the Parole Board and to demand that they deny parole to the criminal that murdered my beautiful 14-month-old baby,” Mary Beth Hacke posted on www.justice4ryanhacke.com.

Hacke said she saw Mathis at a street corner prior to the shooting. She and her husband Tom were in a caravan heading home with Ryan and his older brother Matthew from Tom Hacke's parents' place.

“(Mathis) looked me squarely in the eyes, pulled a semi-automatic handgun out of his pocket and opened fire,” Mary Beth Hacke wrote. “I watched helplessly in fear out of the rear view mirror at the car behind me carrying my husband and two babies. I prayed to God saying, ‘Please do not let anything happen to them.'”

After not seeing her husband behind her, Mary Beth Hacke pulled over and called her father, then-District Justice Richard J. Terrick.

“He instructed me to go to the West Homestead police station,” Hacke wrote. “I waited inside the police station not knowing if my family was safe.”

She learned otherwise. With a bullet wound to his left eye, Ryan first was taken to old Homestead Hospital, then flown to Children's Hospital where he died two days later.

“Victims have the right to provide input in post-sentencing decisions,” Tate said. “This is done through the Office of Victim Advocate and there are various options on how to provide a statement to the board. Victim input is placed in the offender's file for consideration during the parole interview.”

Family members were not available for comment on Friday. In an email, “Justice for Ryan Hacke” spokesman John Butler said, “Tom and Mary Beth would like to take the weekend to organize their thoughts on the tremendous response and be able to concisely describe their efforts and intentions for the upcoming parole hearing.”

Butler said the process outlined by Tate “is a very recent process for the state of Pennsylvania so there is almost no precedent on which to model our efforts.”

Tate said the law requires the parole board to consider the following factors:

• The nature and circumstances of the crime for which the offender was convicted, as well as his entire criminal history.

• Information regarding the general character and background of the offender.

• Notes on the sentencing hearing testimony.

• Emotional stability: physical, mental and behavioral condition and history of the offender.

• History of family violence.

• Recommendation of the sentencing judge and prosecuting attorney.

• Input from the victim and the victim's family.

• Recommendation from the warden or superintendent of the facility where the offender is incarcerated.

“Any other information, letters, petitions, et cetera, received by the board are placed in the offender's file for review by the decision makers,” Tate said.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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