Dorothy Vivian Autrey's grandson killed her in her Cayucos home in 2008, then stuffed her into a suitcase and dumped it over a guardrail north of Ragged Point. The body has never been found.
Matthew Levine was sentenced to at least 25 years in prison for murdering his grandmother, who was 84.
Levine told sheriff's officials he accidentally killed Autrey the night of Feb. 20, 2008, when he was high on marijuana and Robitussin-DM.
He said he was naked in the kitchen when she complained about his addiction, and he turned around to talk to her but accidentally struck her in the chest with his elbow. She hit her back on the kitchen counter, then fell to the floor and died, Levine said. He said he panicked, covered her with plastic bags to stop the bleeding from her nose, stuffed her body into a suitcase, put the suitcase into the trunk of her car, then dumped her body over a guardrail north of Ragged Point along Highway 1.
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For about a month after her death, Levine lied to friends, neighbors, family members and investigators, saying that Autrey was missing. On March 25, 2008, he confessed to investigators, saying he had accidentally killed her.
During the trial, prosecutors argued that Levine dumped the body because Autrey was likely stabbed to death and he didn't want anyone to see the wounds. They also argued that Levine was in debt, needed money and had talked to family and others about inheriting Autrey's home, estimated to be worth $500,000.
Key in the case was the amount of blood found at the home, but neither side conclusively proved how much blood was found in the kitchen and garage of the house.
In Levine's defense, public defender Jeffry Radding argued that his client loved his grandmother, had cared for her, ran errands with her and cooked for her friends. His father testified that his son loved Autrey and had been close to her since childhood.
Superior Court Judge Roger Randall sent Levine to prison for 25 years to life, requiring him to serve at least a quarter of a century before he is eligible for parole.
Radding had argued during the trial that his client accidentally killed Autrey and did not tell authorities until weeks later because he panicked and was high on cough syrup and marijuana at the time of her death.
Levine has said nothing publicly about the murder or the case. But a county probation report released after the sentencing showed that he was surprised that the jury convicted him of first-degree murder.
Levine "feels that voluntary manslaughter would have been the most logical verdict" and that "he is quite confident that there was enough crazy stuff during the trial that his conviction will be reversed," according to the report. "He also comments that had he planned her death, 'It sure would not have been like that.' "
The report also contained information about Levine saying that he did not report Autrey's death because "he always had a pattern of denial and hiding his problems."
He also said that he has always had anxiety and paranoia, and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder nine years ago, according to the report.
During euphoric phases, he said "he could put his hand on his dog's wagging tail and understand what he was saying" and that he would run 12 to 15 miles per day, the report said.
Levine also claimed in the report to have been abducted and raped at age 6 and left in an alley, but that no one acted on the information when he told a relative what happened.
But for Thelma Autrey, who spoke in court and attended the entire jury trial, nothing matters more than the loss of her sister-in-law. And the fact that Autrey's body has never been found is irreparable.
"It's put a very big void in our life," Autrey said. "I want everybody to know. There isn't a better person in the world."