Crime

SLO landscaper sentenced to long prison term for molesting two girls

The owner of a San Luis Obispo landscaping business could spend the rest of his life in prison after being convicted of molesting two young girls in 2016.

Matthew Roland Betts appeared in San Luis Obispo Superior Court Monday for sentencing after a jury in July found him guilty of six counts of lewd acts on a child and three counts of sexual penetration of a child.

Some of those charges carried additional sentencing enhancements, with each carrying a maximum sentence of either 15 or 25 years to life in prison, according to a sentencing brief filed by the District Attorney’s Office.

Following nearly four years of criminal proceedings, Betts was convicted of sexually abusing the then-13-year-old daughter of a girlfriend over the course of five years, as well as inappropriately touching another friend’s then-8-year-old daughter during a gathering in that family’s living room.

Betts, 47, faced a possibility of up to 195 years to life in prison if Superior Court Judge Matthew Guerrero ruled that the sentences for each charge should run consecutively, which the DA’s Office argued was appropriate given the ages of the two victims and because Betts took advantage of a position of trust to commit prolonged sexual abuse.

His defense attorneys, however, argued that a 195-year sentence is “pointless as punishment,” and only serves to express “a supreme measure of social outrage.” The attorneys argued that Betts should have hope for rehabilitation and the possibility of release.

“Mr. Betts is neither a lost cause nor a monster, and need not be treated as one,” a sentencing brief filed by defense attorneys Jeffry Radding and Ginger Ortiz reads.

Victim’s father calls Betts ‘cold and calculated’

Betts, who has been in County Jail custody since his verdict was read July 5, stood shackled in a jail jumpsuit in court with several dozen family members and friends seated in the audience for support.

Betts made no statement at the hearing, but Deputy District Attorney Lisa Muscari, who prosecuted the case, read a pre-written statement from the father of one of Betts’ two victims.

“This person, Matthew Betts, has shown us that he can be a cold and calculated, evil person,” the statement read. “He will find weakness in a family, take his time, and make his move to get your child. I feel he is a threat to society.”

The father wrote that he worries that there may be more victims and took aim at Betts’ supporters.

“Please allow this monster in our town to go away as long as possible and let my family rebuild,” he wrote in the statement to Guerrero.

Guerrero noted that he read the 21 letters of support submitted by Betts’ family members, friends and past clients who wrote of the father of three’s kindness, strong work ethic, and respectable nature, urging the judge to show him leniency.

Guerrero said he took into consideration Betts’ supporters as well as the impact the crimes will continue to have on the victims when he ruled that each 15- and 25-to-life charge be served concurrently, for a total of 25 years to life in prison.

Under the sentence, Betts will be in his early 70s before he’s eligible to seek parole.

The judge said he agreed to recommend Betts serve his sentence at California Men’s Colony on the outskirts of San Luis Obispo so that he’s housed near his family.

However, Betts will first be transferred by California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to Wasco State Prison, a higher-security facility in Kern County, to serve an undetermined portion of his sentence.

In addition to his sentence, Betts is ordered to pay at least $10,000 in restitution to his two victims. A restitution hearing is scheduled for Feb. 10.

He molested one girl for 5 years

Betts was arrested June 29, 2016, after the then-13-year-old girl told investigators that Betts, who had dated the girl’s mother, had abused her over the course of about five years, when she was between 5 and 10 years old.

Investigators then learned of a separate incident, in which a friend of Betts’ allegedly caught him inappropriately touching the friend’s then-8-year-old daughter as the group watched TV in the family’s living room.

Betts was found guilty of the charges following a nearly two-week trial in which the jury took roughly a half-day to reach the verdict.

On the first day of the trial June 28, Muscari called both of his victims, now 11 and 16 years old, to testify about the abuse. One of the girls’ mothers, Betts’ ex-girlfriend, testified that she trusted him and never expected his actions.

“In hindsight, it’s easy to see the red flags,” the woman testified.

Betts’ attorneys were not immediately available for comment following Monday’s hearing. A District Attorney’s Office spokesperson also declined to comment.

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Matt Fountain is The San Luis Obispo Tribune’s courts and investigations reporter. A San Diego native, Fountain graduated from Cal Poly’s journalism department in 2009 and cut his teeth at the San Luis Obispo New Times before joining The Tribune as a crime and breaking news reporter in 2014.
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