Karen Mathews Davis, clerk-recorder of Stanislaus County from 1990 to 2001, dodged a prison sentence Thursday despite her conviction for lying to federal agents investigating death threats she sent to herself nearly four years ago.
But she may not be out of the woods, as a separate investigation continues into whether her testimony two decades ago, which put a man behind bars for 19 years, also was fabricated to get attention.
Mathews Davis suffers from ill mental and physical health, and sending her to federal prison even for a few months wouldn’t achieve much, U.S. Judge Troy Nunley said Thursday at her sentencing for the recent lying conviction.
“I don’t see that it would serve any purpose, incarcerating a 69-year-old woman with a history of mental health (problems),” Nunley said, listing depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, reportedly resulting from a 1994 ambush in her Modesto garage. She told authorities she was cut, punched, kicked, and sodomized with a pistol.
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Thursday’s sentence — 12 months probation — ignored a separate probe into whether she made up the ambush story, as well as some threats at the time from domestic terrorists. “This review has been thorough and, at present, is ongoing,” said Lauren Horwood, a U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman.
Mathews Davis’ prior testimony – coming from a then-popular public figure – put nine people into federal prison for more than 50 years combined, including alleged assailant Roger Steiner, who steadfastly has denied guilt these many years.
Informed of her lenient treatment in the recent case, Steiner said, “It must be nice to have friends in high places.”
“She took 20 years of my life,” continued Steiner, now 79, frail and using a walker while living in squalor near Fresno. “What’s 20 years? ‘Only 20 years for old man Steiner; he’ll get over it.’ ”
At his 1997 trial, the longest to that date in Fresno’s federal court, the judge would not allow questions about Mathews Davis’ mental health and kept jurors from hearing that Steiner had passed a polygraph test clearing him from involvement in the alleged ambush. Steiner’s attorney said it wasn’t reasonable that he would attack her at night in Modesto and show up to work 800 miles away early the next day, and noted that she provided at least four different versions of the alleged attack in accounts to various officers.
But her testimony was enough to convict Steiner. And when she said he might be behind renewed threats she reported receiving in late 2013 and early 2014, federal agents jumped to protect her.
Mathews Davis, who years ago moved to Lodi, was ramping up a campaign for Congress, and Steiner had just been released from prison. She pointed agents toward him, as well as her grandson, a neighbor’s nephew and a member of her church. She also self-published a book about the alleged attack, called “The Terrorist in My Garage.”
Fourteen months later, agents asked about dementia and she admitted fabricating the threats, leading to Thursday’s sentence.
“She will be remorseful about this incident the rest of her life,” her Woodbridge attorney, Randy Thomas, told the judge. “She is extremely embarrassed and apologizes to all concerned.”
Federal prosecutors asked, to no avail, that she be sentenced to three months in prison.
“Fearfulness of a geriatric prison release in failing health and in his late 70s neither excuses nor adequately explains the lengths to which Davis went in creating and maintaining the crime of which she now stands convicted,” prosecutors wrote before the proceeding.
Steiner, without means of traveling to Sacramento, wasn’t there Thursday.
“If she lied to federal authorities (recently), she has the propensity to have done the same thing 20 years ago,” he said in an interview with The Modesto Bee. “She fabricated the whole thing. I’ll testify to that till my dying breath.”
The lead Modesto Police detective from the 1994 ambush, Jim Waterman, told The Bee in June that he tried hard to link Steiner to the ambush and came away thinking he was innocent.
One of her closest friends at the time – interviewed separately, also in June – said she always believed Mathews Davis made everything up and believed her when she privately confided having sustained rectal tissue damage from sex with a boyfriend, not a pistol.
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390