The former UVA police officer who killed his mentally ill son while defending his family last year won’t serve any additional jail time, an Albemarle County judge ruled December 5.
On November 9, 2016, then-84-year-old Donald Short shot his 47-year-old son, Matthew, in the leg and abdomen after Matthew started a violent fight with Short’s other son, Edward.
During the investigation, the elder Short told a detective that Matthew abused drugs and had been acting strange lately, so the former cop started carrying a gun with him for protection. Matthew had also tried to kill his brother before, Short said, so when the two were fighting and Edward was struggling to take Matthew to the ground, their father said he shot Matthew to immobilize him.
Matthew died three days later.
“My father didn’t shoot to kill Matthew,” testified Laura LaRose, the daughter of the 85-year-old, who entered an Alford plea to an involuntary manslaughter charge in August, admitting there was enough evidence to convict him, though he didn’t feel guilty of the crime.
LaRose continued, “[Short] tried to keep [Matthew] from hurting himself or someone else. Punishing my father would only accentuate the suffering for all of us.”
Emotions ran high in the courtroom as LaRose spoke of her familiarity with Matthew’s struggles, of the highs and lows of his mental health and his self-medication with “street drugs.”
Before his death, police were called to the Short residence three other times because Matthew was being violent, according to a statement of facts provided by the commonwealth’s attorney’s office.
The document also said that on the day of the shooting, residents of an apartment on Burgoyne Road called the police when a group of people, including Matthew, allegedly attempted to break into their apartment.
A female resident told police said she had gotten into an argument with “Crazy Matt” about drugs on November 7. He threatened her with an ax and said he’d “be back.”
He kept his promise. When he came back two days later, she said Matthew charged the door while saying he was “coming in by the hair of [his] chinny chin chin,” and holding a yellow and black ax and some rope.
The resident told police she knew Matthew, and that he “talked about killing people, talk[ed] to the lord, could see the devil and would go into a corner of a room, look up and say, ‘Do y’all see that?’” according to the statement of facts.
On the day of Short’s sentencing, his family filled the courtroom in support. Judge Cheryl Higgins called the incident a tragedy and said it’s time for them to begin to heal.
She sentenced Short to five years of jail time, with all but 10 days suspended, which he already served during the investigation.
Outside the courthouse, defense attorney Holly Vradenburgh asked reporters to respect the family and called for resources for people dealing with mental illness in loved ones.
“Their grief over the loss of Matthew was compounded by Don Short being arrested and charged with his murder,” she read from a statement. “This 84-year-old man who spent over 50 years of his life in law enforcement sat in a jail cell alone when he learned he had killed his son while protecting his other son.”