- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Nearly eight years after Christopher Mader was gunned down Thanksgiving morning while on the way home from his Waldorf bartending job, his killer has been sentenced to life behind bars.
A Charles County judge sentenced Matthew Derek Correll, 31, of Newburg to life in prison without the possibility of parole Tuesday, nearly two months after a jury convicted Correll of Mader’s murder.
“Mr. Correll, in this world there are givers and there are takers. I have seen nothing [during this case] to suggest that you have ever been a giver in your life,” Circuit Judge Robert C. Nalley said. “You took Christopher Mader’s life, so to the extent that the law allows, this court is taking yours.”
Mader had just gotten off from work as a bartender at Bennigan’s and was driving on Smallwood Drive seconds from his Hampshire home when he was shot in the head around 2:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving 2004. His car careened off the road and crashed into a signpost and power box near William B. Wade Elementary School. He was 23.
An off-duty Washington, D.C., policeman who lived nearby heard a lone gunshot and arrived on the scene to discover the wreck and Mader’s body inside.
Officers suspected Mader, whose pockets were stuffed with tip money following one of the busiest bartending nights of the year, was the target of a botched robbery.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, as you have, judge, and I have yet to see a murder that makes sense. This one is about as senseless as it gets,” Charles County State’s Attorney Anthony B. Covington (D) said at Tuesday’s hearing. “I see nothing that mitigates this crime. ... Matthew Correll killed a man for absolutely no reason.”
The case went cold and remained so for nearly six years before investigators finally received tips fingering Correll as the shooter. He was indicted for first-degree murder Oct. 15, 2010, and arrested in King George, Va., one week later.
Two people who claimed to be with Correll at the time of the murder testified during his three-day trial in June. One of them, Shawn Marshall Myers, 34, of Waldorf, has pleaded guilty to his involvement in the crime and is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 12.
“As the verdict was about to be read, all I could think about was the years of hard work everyone contributed throughout this investigation,” detective Keith Moody said in a statement following Correll’s conviction June 29. “I also recalled the morning of the murder when I notified the family of Christopher Mader’s death. Then to hear the verdict of guilty, it is a moment I will never forget.”
Following Correll’s sentencing, Mader’s parents, Samantha and Phaon Payne, praised the Charles County Sheriff’s Office and prosecutors who worked on the case.
Samantha Payne said that it was difficult to feel any sense of closure with her son still buried, but she did express relief that Correll “is being held responsible for what he did to Chris.”
Defense attorney Robert C. Bonsib said Correll intends to appeal the case.
Bonsib asked Nalley to allow Correll a chance at parole should the appeal fail, pointing out cases where convicted murderers later have been proven innocent.
Bonsib said his client felt sympathy for Mader’s family, but knew such sentiment would “ring hollow” since they were convinced Correll was the shooter.
Bonsib indicated Correll was not going to speak at the hearing, but Correll later stood and faced the courtroom.
“I would just like the family and friends of Mr. Mader to know that I do pray for you every day,” he said.
Nalley also sentenced Correll to three consecutive 20-year sentences for counts of attempted robbery, conspiracy to commit attempted robbery and use of a handgun in commission of a violent crime.
“The judge gave the maximum sentence allowable, so we are certainly pleased with that, and Mr. Correll was certainly deserving,” Covington said.
“Chris Mader did not deserve his fate or contribute to the circumstance in any way. Now we have justice for him and his family,” Charles County Sheriff Rex Coffey (D) said in a statement.
“Matt Correll has finally been held accountable for his actions,” detective Kevin Keelan said. “It’s been a long time but I’m glad to know that Matthew Correll will not be back on our streets to harm anyone ever again.”
Knowing she would be unable to keep her composure during the sentencing hearing, Samantha Payne stood nearby as her statement was read to the court by her sister, Leslie Mendelson-Craven.
“Mr. Correll has never given any consideration to how he affected our family when he murdered my son,” Mendelson-Craven read aloud. “Every Thanksgiving is a constant reminder of our loss. I will never see my son get married or have children, my grandchildren. ... I think we will all sleep a little easier knowing Mr. Correll is behind bars for the rest of his life.”
Shelly Willson, who now lives in California and called Mader her best friend, said he was the one person she could always count on.
“No matter what else was going on in his life, you could never tell because he always had that beautiful smile on his face. Chris was the most caring and generous person I ever met,” Willson said. “Mr. Correll, what did he do to you that made you so mad that you had to murder him?”
An aspiring sportscaster who had interned for “The Sports Junkies” radio show and Fox 5 in Washington, D.C., Mader was set to begin taking broadcast journalism classes at the University of Maryland the spring semester after he was murdered.
At Tuesday’s hearing, prosecutors played Mader’s audition for the ESPN reality show “Dream Job.” Mader’s cheerful voice filled the courtroom as those inside listened, sobbed and, every so often, chuckled at his playful demeanor.
“He would be with ESPN if he was alive today. No doubt about it,” Samantha Payne said.