The trial of John Mathis Jr. continues in Ketchikan Superior Court. Mathis is accused of helping his two younger brothers run away and stay away from their Prince of Wales Island home back in 2011. The boys were found more than 8 months later on a ferry near Bellingham, Washington.
Here is a report from Wednesday, Day 2 of the trial.
Jacob and Toby Simmermeyer tried to run away twice before, but this time, it was much longer. While the defense argues that the boys’ mother drove them to run away on their own, prosecution says the two boys, aged 11 and 13 at the time, had help from their big brother.
State Trooper Ben Mank agreed. Mank looked for the boys while they were missing and said they would have needed help to stay alive and evade detection for that long.
The Trooper identified evidence, including records from the boys’ cellphones
showing calls to their father and brother. Mank also found a GPS unit in one of the boys’ backpacks, which was bought by John Mathis Sr., their father, even before the boys ran away.
With a jury absent, Judge Louis Menendez agreed that at least someone must have helped the boys.
“I don’t think these boys perhaps have the wherewithal to make these decisions.
They were young boys, though raised in rural Alaska, but at 11 and 13 likely armed with cell phones and beacons, it’s the court’s view that the evidence at least implicitly suggests if not more affirmatively that they were receiving guidance from adults.”
Jacob Simmermeyer, the younger of the two boys is now 16. He testified that he had told John Mathis Jr., his brother, and John Mathis Sr., his father, he would run away if his mother got any “worse.” Simmermeyer said his father bought him and his brother a water purifier and the GPS locator to make sure they were safe if the pair did leave, but that the decision to run away was all their own.
“Just the way she was acting started reminding me of when she was when I was little, and I didn’t want to go through that again. And I knew if she did start hitting on me, or hitting me or doing anything like that, they wouldn’t do anything, troopers wouldn’t do anything about it.
and I was scared of that. I didn’t want that to happen… I started talk to Toby about if I started feeling like that was going to happen. I was going to leave. And he agreed with me. And that wasn’t, we weren’t told to run away. Nobody told us would could, nobody told us we should, that was our idea.”
Simmermeyer went on to describe his mother’s alleged abuse and odd behavior over the years, including hitting, punching and spanking him, as well as walking around in the middle of the night, only to stop and stare.
“One night I woke up, and my mom, she had this kitchen knife in her hand, and maybe she was just like three or four feet away from the couch. And she was just creeping up, just looking at me, I don’t know what she was doing, she might have been just holding it. But as a 4-year-old kid, that’s scary. And this was the middle of the night, and she was just looking at me.”
Jacob Simmermeyer admitted that his older brother, John Mathis Jr., got food to him and his brother after they had been on the run for nearly three months. He said they called Mathis, aged 20 at the time, who left them food in a canoe along a shoreline several miles away.
When Mathis met them, Simmermeyer said both Toby, 13, and himself, 11, decided they still didn’t want to go home.
After the boys continued to camp for a while, Simmermeyer said Mathis got them re-boarding tickets for a ferry Mathis worked on that was headed to Washington. From there, Simmermeyer said they hoped to meet up with their 16-year-old sister or his aunt and uncle, who all lived in Ohio at the time.
The question still remains to what degree their father or brother may have helped them.
Jacob Simmermeyer now lives in Palmer with his sister in a cabin with his mother nearby, while his older brother, now 18, lives elsewhere.
Mathis Jr., now 24, is charged with two felony counts of custodial interference, two misdemeanor counts of contributing to a delinquent minor runaway, and one misdemeanor count of theft. His father faces similar charges.
Mathis Jr.’s last trial ended with a hung jury. This trial continued with the defense’s witnesses Thursday.