The Murder of Ben Oxley
As I sat down today to begin researching cases, this was the next on my list. I have two others that I researched last week and have not put together but they haven't “caught” me just yet to make me want to compose them. This one however has. Two things stick out with me about this particular case. First, this could very easily have become a case in which an innocent person could have been charged, and maybe even convicted. Secondly, it makes you question deals that prosecutors make with people and why they are not quick to nab those who have violated the terms.
In the early morning hours of February 21, 2008 Melissa Oxley was awakened by a very loud “bang” as she described it. Instead of immediately attempting to wake her husband of 18 months, Ben, who was laying beside her in bed her first instinct was to run downstairs and check the front door of their Minden Nevada home. Some reports say she found it open, some say she simply found it unlocked and a few others claim it was still locked. No matter how she found, or did not find, the door Melissa would tell investigators that she went back up to the bedroom to wake up Ben. Whether she immediately turned on the light or only did so after not being able to wake him is unclear but the illumination allowed her to see the horror in the room. Ben lay in bed with blood pouring out of his head. Melissa would stop Ben's six year old daughter, Alyssa, from going into the room and would contact 911.
Of course police were immediately suspicious and Melissa. Investigators could not understand how Melissa had not seen the person who supposedly shot her husband when she was laying next to him as he was shot, nor could they find any signs of forced entry into the home. In fairness to investigators you can hardly blame them for their suspicions. Is it not always the spouse? In my research I found a report that also claimed that Melissa's teenage brother, Craig Nichols was also staying at the home and had been in the room just next to the master bedroom. All that I can confirm for sure is that Melissa did have a brother named Craig Nichols so it is possible. According to the report I found, investigators were also suspicious of his story of hearing nothing throughout the night. Investigators would learn that there was a $400,000 life insurance policy on Ben also which heightened their suspicions on Melissa. They reportedly kept her under surveillance for a time but ultimately could find nothing on her.
Also soon after the murder investigators would talk to Ben's ex wife, Dawn. Ben and Dawn had divorced in 2004. They had one daughter together, Alyssa but from information I found it seems that Dawn also had an older daughter, and possibly also a son. Reports are sketchy as to when Ben received full custody of their daughter. What seems more clear is that not long before Ben was murdered Dawn had been ordered to pay $200.00 a month in child support. In doing my research I got the impression that the ruling was so recent that it was unclear if she had even began making payments. I could be wrong but I also got the impression that the child support may have been a totally separate issue and that Alyssa had been in Ben's custody for quite some time, if not since the divorce some nearly four years earlier. At any rate investigators wanted to talk to Dawn of course since she was the former spouse. She would tell them that she had been home all night watching television or sleeping. It seems they bought it. However, they also knew that Dawn was dating a man named James Matlean, who was some twelve years her junior, and had a criminal record. James was either already living with Dawn at the time of the murder or he would move in sometime soon after. James would tell investigators that he was in another town and again it seems that investigators bought it. The focus seemed to be on Melissa because investigators still could not fathom her story. It is unclear if they went deeper into verifying both Dawn and James' alibi's. Of course, playing devil's advocate here, this was a crime that was committed in the middle of the night when the most common activity for people was sleeping, just as the victim had been doing.
Investigators just did not have the goods on Melissa no matter what they thought and life moved on for all involved. In my research I found a forum, that of course often has little more than rumors attached to them, just as quite honestly much of the comments in my own blogs do. I found my way there because something about this whole case has bothered me aside from the murder of Ben Oxley. That is the custody of his child not only before Ben's death but even after. It has been widely reported that Alyssa continued to live with Melissa after Ben's death. The forum I found started soon after the murder and as is often the case there was much speculation thrown at Melissa and her possible involvement. There was indication there that Ben did not receive full custody of Alyssa until after his marriage to Melissa and of course there were those who found this behavior odd and blamed Melissa, claiming she had an odd relationship with her step-daughter. There was also statements that did indicate that after Ben's death Dawn did retain custody of her daughter and that Melissa fought for, and was granted visitation. When I first began interested in the law I was focused on family law due to my own personal issues at the time. I just found it odd that Dawn had lost custody of her young child. Whether it happened in 2004 at the divorce, when Alyssa was one or two years old, or three years later, it still just jumps out at me. No matter how much we want to believe that we have evolved as a society of people it is still odd for a judge to grant custody of a young child, especially a daughter, to a father unless there is just cause. Then, after Ben's death at the very least Melissa was granted visitation, if not custody of the child, and that is almost unheard of. In fact, I am unsure I have ever heard of it. I was unable to find an answer fully to this question but later events would possibly shed some light on things.
So, as I said, as the case went cold, people involved moved on with their lives. Then came early 2010, two years after Ben Oxley's murder. Suddenly it seems that Dawn began talking to police again and her story had changed. She would now claim that her boyfriend, James Matlean, had murdered Ben. She would claim that she had never encouraged it nor helped plan it but that James had taken it upon himself to do in order to, in her words, please her. She stated that she did know about it after it happened because James had confessed to her and said “It's done.” I did some searching because now we have the next strange thing in this case. I could not find anything as to why Dawn would suddenly tell this to the police. Was she fighting with James and wanted to get even? Did she fear he would talk to the police first and she wanted to beat him to it? Was she in some sort of other trouble and was trying to make a deal? Regardless of her reasons for giving this information to the police, investigators of course brought James in. He would be officially arrested in June of 2010, some four months it seems after Dawn was given a deal of immunity from the prosecutors. Again, these turns of events seem odd to me. The deal for her immunity was based on the fact that she testify truthfully at any trial in the future, and this may be the portion in which have since tied the prosecutors hands.
Initially it seems that James pleaded not guilty, but in my opinion I believe the not guilty plea was simply the first and a formality. Almost every defendant in a case, regardless of the circumstances, initially pleads not guilty. It is just so that there is time for attorney's to gather all the evidence and either strike a deal or formulate a case. Even in cases in which an arrest is made based on a confession the defendant pleads not guilty initially at least 99% of the time. However, as time went on James Matlean began to talk and by March of 2012 he had changed his plea to guilty.
By the sound of things James entered a guilty plea to avoid the death penalty because his guilty plea got him a sentence of life in prison for the murder of Ben Oxley and also a sentence of four to ten years for conspiracy to commit murder. Much of the information said that his sentence was life, without parole, while other reports stated that he would be entitled to parole after twenty years, which technically in many states is the low end of a life sentence. A search of the Nevada Department of Correction shows no date scheduled for parole and simply says life so it would appear the without parole would be correct but only time will tell. But, James did not just stand up in court and take a guilty plea. He told his side of the story and I highly suspect this is not the first time the prosecutor or investigators had heard his story. The problem would lie however with the deal that they made with Dawn Oxley, long before they really talked to James.
James would admit that it was he who went into Ben Oxley's home and shot him in the head on that February night in 2008. But, James would also tell the court, prosecutors and spectators that he not only did so at Dawn's urging but that she was with him on that night. He would also say that Dawn had intended on James also shooting Melissa while she lay in bed and then kidnapping Alyssa but he got scared after shooting Ben and ran out, and he convinced Dawn to leave Alyssa. According to James, Dawn came home the night before from work and the plan was hatched after an evening filled with drugs and alcohol. James claimed that when he and Dawn got to the home they went to the front door and found it locked. However, they found a sliding glass door that had been left unlocked. The fact that investigators had always said there was no forced entry into the home and the fact that at least one door was found unlocked at the scene had led many to speculate Melissa was involved. It appears that it was one of those coincidental things that just so happens on a night that something horrible happens, the door had been left unlocked. James would go on to insist that Dawn had orchestrated the crime and while he made no excuses for his actions and as he says “owned up” to his part, he also felt that she should have done the same. Of course that did not happen and Dawn maintains her innocence.
It appears that when everything was said and done investigators not only knew Melissa was innocent but I also highly suspect they believed James' story in that Dawn was involved. The reason I believe James told his story to investigators long before his guilty plea is that in March of 2011, a full year before his guilty plea but nearly a year after his arrest, Dawn was arrested on charges that she had used her fifteen year old daughter in what they called “multiple drug transactions” involving prescription drugs. It appears they had been watching her for a while and got enough evidence to charge her. In October of 2011 she would plead no contest and receive a sentence of 90 months in prison. She was released in 2014. I am surprised however she did not get more time in that case because not only had they likely heard James' story, one article I read stated that Dawn's son had told investigators that he had heard James and Dawn discussing the murder prior to it happening. This would mean that as the defense lawyers would later say “they made a deal with the devil” and now they knew it. Her agreement apparently stated that she would be granted immunity from charges of murder as “long as she testified truthfully” at trial. Well, problem number one was that when James pleaded guilty she was now no longer required to testify at a trial. And, technically it was not her fault that she did not fulfill that portion so they could not use it against her. Problem number two it appears was simply the immunity itself and to this day it seems she has never been charged in the murder of her ex husband. I suspect that when she was sentenced in October of 2011 on the drug charges that there was no idea that James would change his plea some five months later, hence not having a trial in which she would have testified. Had she testified and stuck with the story that she initially told the police then it may have been possible for the state to revoke the immunity as they could have likely proven that her story was not the truth.
It has been theorized that had Dawn not talked to the police in early 2010 then the crime would not have been solved and questions would not have been answered, although in the end not all of the answers have been found. I believe that most do believe James' story as it was Dawn who had “a dog” in this fight, more than he ever would have. It seem implausible that James would have killed Ben on his own as Dawn tried to convince investigators. Was her intention to get her daughter? Was this purely about revenge on her ex husband and the greed of not paying him the court ordered child support? It appears that those are the questions that will not be answered. In the end, even prior to speaking to police it seems that Dawn did not fully get her daughter and while she is currently no longer in prison, by all indications Melissa continues to raise Alyssa. Killing Ben does not seem to have solved any of Dawn's problems.