A judge sentenced a 29-year-old Turlock man who his family says has a history of schizophrenia to 19 years to life in prison Tuesday for murdering a young mother in front of her two children.
Denise Swanner, 20, was shot twice with her .38-caliber handgun near an apartment on Pioneer Avenue. Matthew Younker, who also goes by Matthew Black, pleaded no contest to second-degree murder on Jan. 27.
Swanner's family gave tearful statements to Judge Thomas Zeff before Younker's sentencing. Swanner's mother, Debbie Shaw, said she couldn't go back to work after her daughter's murder. She is raising Swanner's daughters, who were 3 years old and 10 months old at the time of Swanner's death. She has panic attacks that "feel like heart attacks," she wrote in a statement.
"I'm sentenced to life without my daughter," Swanner's father, Sean Swanner, told the court. "I don't think this person should ever see the light of day."
Younker declined to give a statement and stared straight ahead during the hearing.
Brandi Younker, the suspect's sister, said she and Swanner — her "best friend" — were having dinner at Brandi Younker's Pinetree Gardens apartment when her brother showed up about 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 4, 2006.
"He kept saying, 'I'm just scared. I'm just scared.' And I told him, 'If you lay down for the night, I'll take you to county mental health in the morning,' " Brandi Younker told The Bee in a previous interview.
Matthew Younker had been diagnosed with schizophrenia in prison after a car theft conviction, his sister said. He was on parole in Ceres and bounced between relatives in Ceres, Turlock and Livingston, where the fatal evening began.
Merced County sheriff's deputies were called to the home of Younker's parents because "he was acting somewhat irrational and was trying to flag cars down," said Turlock police Sgt. Craig Boothe.
Younker told deputies he needed a ride to Turlock, so they dropped him off at Lander Avenue and Highway 99, according to Boothe. Younker then called Turlock police to report two men in a black vehicle following him. He told police he thought they were armed. Police picked him up and brought him to the Pioneer Avenue apartment, where his sister and Swanner were having dinner.
The details of what happened between Swanner and Younker remain murky. Swanner told the siblings she had a gun, "but I told her not to bring it down," Brandi Younker said.
After dinner, Brandi Younker heard the shots and ran outside to find Swanner on the sidewalk and Matthew Younker with the gun.
Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2337.