Man accused in Mariposa museum gold theft should face trial, judge rules

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comApril 30, 2013 

A Mariposa County judge has determined that ample evidence exists to try a 41-year-old man accused of participating in last year's brazen robbery at the California State Mining and Mineral Museum in Mariposa.

Jonathan Matis is one of two remaining defendants in the robbery case, along with Christopher Scott Sheffield, 42. The three others in the case -- Michael Anthony Gomes, 43, Matthew Campbell, 43, Edward Rushing III, 40 -- have reached plea deals with Mariposa County prosecutors.

Matis appeared in court Tuesday for the second day of testimony in his preliminary hearing, in which attorneys present their evidence to a judge.

During Tuesday's hearing, Mariposa County Judge Wayne Parrish heard testimony from a California Highway Patrol officer involved with the case. Two museum employees testified in the hearing Monday, in addition to Gomes and Campbell, who are witnesses for the prosecution. Gomes and Campbell agreed to testify against Matis as conditions of their plea agreements.

Matis' next hearing is scheduled for May 14, according to Mariposa County District Attorney Thomas K. Cooke. Matis faces eight felony charges, including three counts of auto theft, one count of arson, two counts of robbery, one count of burglary and one count of grand theft, Cooke said.

Ron Iudice, vice president of the California State Mining and Mineral Museum Association, said the district attorney has done a good job resolving the cases, and Matis will be no exception.

"Whether he pleads guilty or goes to a trial, he's still going to be guilty. He has no way out," Iudice said. "I think they will all be held responsible in one degree or another for what they did."

During the two-minute heist Sept. 28, the masked robbers took off with the items after smashing display cases with a pickax. Gomes testified Monday that Rushing used the pickax to break a case holding the museum's historic Fricot Nugget, a 14-pound gold mass.

Museum Curator Darci Moore testified Monday that the Fricot Nugget's case was damaged and beginning to break, with at least ten strike marks.

During the robbery, Gomes said, the museum's alarm went off and the vault's doors slammed shut, so the robbers began to strike other cases.

The exact amount of gold taken by the robbers is unknown, but Gomes testified that Rushing split the loot. He said he received a $4,000 share, which he sold to a pawn shop.

The museum, which is operated by the California Department of Parks and Recreation, is home to more than 13,000 artifacts dating to the 1800s.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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