A 67-year-old man was sentenced Friday to 15 years to life in prison for fatally stabbing a retiree in the victim’s Escondido apartment in 1986 — a cold case police said was solved through DNA, fingerprints and advances in photography.
Nathan Mathis pleaded guilty in San Diego Superior Court to second-degree murder in the death of Richard Finney, who was stabbed 37 times during the frenzied attack 36 years ago.
The first stab was to his head, Deputy District Attorney Tom Manning said. The blow bent the knife, so the assailant grabbed a second one from Finney’s kitchen. The fatal wound was to Finney’s back.
Finney, 75, was a retired traveling salesman and Army veteran. He was partially paralyzed from a stroke, but fought back against his assailant, Manning said. The attacker took about $300, a ring and a few other items, including a robe, a mustache trimmer and bars of soap.
On the morning of Nov. 13, 1986, a home healthcare worker found Finney dead in his first-floor apartment on East Mission Avenue near North Juniper Street.
The scene yielded fingerprints and bloody handprint. But it would be decades before science caught up to the evidence.
“This case demonstrates the importance of the DA’s office having a cold case unit as well as law enforcement having detectives dedicated to cold cases,” Manning said Friday. “The credit in this case goes to the Escondido forensic evidence team.”
In 2007, a cold case investigator delved into the case and arranged for the DNA and palm-print evidence to be run through databases. The prints yielded nothing, but the DNA revealed a mixture of two people — the victim and, presumably, his killer. However, the DNA database turned up no hits.
In 2016, the department’s forensics team took high-quality photos of fingerprints on a bathroom faucet knob taken 30 years earlier in Finney’s apartment.
The more-detailed photo, coupled with advances in fingerprint comparison databases, led investigators to Mathis, the department said. His DNA matched that found at the crime scene.
He was arrested in 2018 in the Ontario, Calif. apartment, where he lived with his wife and two grandchildren. Manning said Mathis had spent several years as a minister.
When Mathis was arrested in 2018, Escondido police said it marked the department’s longest stretch between the date that a crime happened and the arrest of a suspect.
Manning said Mathis did not make a statement at his sentencing hearing.