TAMPA (FOX 13) - Three years after the brutal killings of his ex-girlfriend Megan Brown, her parents, and her new boyfriend, Adam Matos took the witness stand Wednesday and admitted to killing them.
He told the jury the 4-year-old son he had with Megan was in another room when he committed the murders – and he described how he and his son escaped from the crime scene in a canoe and a taxi cab as deputies poured into the neighborhood.
The story Adam Matos told the jury is very similar to the case laid out by prosecutors, with one very significant difference. Prosecutors say jealousy drove Matos to commit the murders – and if convicted, the state wants Matos executed.
Matos claims self-defense and paranoia led to the murders – and he told the jury he took the stand to “tell the truth of what really happened and share the story the state is trying to hide.”
Testifying at his own murder trial carries enormous risks because prosecutors get to cross-examine the defendant and can poke holes in his story. Defendants are not required to testify, and very few ever do.
To have a defendant in a death penalty case testify is remarkably rare and highly unusual.
Matos used the occasion to describe a chain of events outside of his control that led to one killing after the next – over a period of several hours – that began the morning of August 28, 2014.
Matos told the jury he and Megan fought that morning. The couple, though estranged, lived together in the same Hudson home as Meagan’s parents, Greggory and Margaret Brown.
After the argument, he left the home – and when he returned, he says Margaret’s new boyfriend, Nick Leonard, was there. He said an argument began between the three of them, and it turned violent when Nick began to choke him and held a gun to his chest.
“How did you feel when Nicholas Leonard had his hands around your neck?” Defense Attorney Dean Livermore asked.
“I felt like I was going to die”, Matos responded.
“How about after he reached for his gun in his pocket?” asked Livermore.
Matos said, “I felt like he was going to kill me.”
Matos said he spotted a knife sitting on a dresser so he grabbed it and began stabbing Nick. As he wrestled the gun away from Nick, he says Megan and her dad, Gregory, entered the room. Matos said Megan shouted to her father to shoot him.
Matos said he followed Gregory and Megan to the master bedroom closet where Greggory kept his guns. Matos says he was in fear for his own life and used the gun he wrestled away from Nick to shoot Gregory in the back. He says he then fired toward a corner where Megan was hiding.
Matos said the bullet struck Megan and that’s the moment “I lost it completely.”
He says he realized he had just killed “the woman I love, the mother of my child” – and he was overcome with anger.
That anger led him back to the room where he left Nick Leonard bleeding from stab wounds. He blamed Nick for turning the family against him.
“I grabbed a hammer that was on the floor," he calmly recounted to the jury, “and I just kept hitting until I couldn’t anymore.”
Megan, her father, Greggory, and her new boyfriend Nick, were now all dead and Matos was covered in blood. He says he washed it off, then went to check on his son.
He says he kissed Triston on the cheek, promised him “everything’s going to be okay,” then waited for Megan’s mom, Margaret to come home from work.
Matos says paranoia drove him to believe Margaret would try to kill him too. “I was out of it and so paranoid and in shock,” he told the jury. He says he now realizes she didn’t intend to kill him.
On Wednesday, he said he felt disgusted.
He even told the jury, “I loved her very much” – but on August 28, 2014, it was that paranoia, he said, that drove him to kill her, too.
When she got home, me met her in the garage hallway, beat her with the same hammer he used on Nick, then “I put a bag over her head” to prevent more blood from getting everywhere.
“I used tape to close it off”, he told the jury.
There were no witnesses, and nobody to call the police – but Matos knew he only had a few days, at most, before law enforcement would show up. He tried to bury the bodies, but couldn't dig deep enough, so he loaded them in Margaret’s van and moved them off the property.
Then he began to sell the family’s possessions on Craigslist – and even used Margaret’s credit card to order pizza, so he and Tristin could eat.
Seven days after the killings, Margaret Brown’s step-mother called the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office to request a welfare check. She’d been trying for days to reach Margaret, without any results.
When deputies arrived, they found the bodies. Adam Matos and his son Tristin were gone.
From the witness stand, Matos described how they got away under the cover of darkness, first in a canoe, then by calling a taxi.
“Once it got dark”, he said, “I found a canoe that was on the dock”.
They used it to go “across the canal to the next neighborhood. We walked a few blocks and there was a house by the canal and there was a bench to sit on by the water.”
He says he and Tristin looked at the boats until Tristin began to fall asleep in his lap.
“I wanted to get him somewhere comfortable, where he could sleep and eat”, he said. “So I called a taxi. We went to Tampa to the bus station.”
There weren’t any buses headed out that night, so he checked into the Floridan Hotel nearby, and paid for the room with cash.
By this point, Matos’ image had been plastered all over the news. Someone at the hotel recognized him and called the police.
Early the next morning, the front desk called and told Matos they needed to move him to another room because of an electrical problem. As he headed down to discuss it, he encountered dozens of officers who were waiting for him.
He told the jury he surrendered peacefully.
With Matos’ testimony complete, the defense rested its case.
Prosecutors underscored the brutality of the murders in their closing arguments.
They told the jury he beat Nick so severely, he’s “not entitled to claim self-defense.” They said Matos’ testimony "is not credible and not supported by the evidence in this case” and shifted the focus back to jealousy as a motive.
Prosecutors told the jury Matos was warned not to return when he left the home after arguing with Megan on August 28, but snuck back in anyway.
Closing arguments continued into the early evening Wednesday night. The jury will receive jury instructions Thursday before beginning their deliberations.