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Woonsocket man sentenced to 40 years in prison for killing woman

WOONSOCKET -- The man responsible for killing a Woonsocket woman by cutting her throat in what a judge called "one of the most tragic crimes" he had ever seen, was sentenced to 40 years in the state penitentiary.

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WOONSOCKET - The man responsible for killing a Woonsocket woman by cutting her throat in what a judge called “one of the most tragic crimes” he had ever seen, was sentenced to 40 years in the state penitentiary.

Matthew Novak, 33, was sentenced Tuesday for first-degree manslaughter for the stabbing death of 26-year-old Jennifer Gibson in the early morning hours of Aug. 31 at their Woonsocket home.

During a court hearing Tuesday in Woonsocket, Judge Jon Erickson said Novak had no prior violent convictions, with his most serious offense as possession of marijuana. When explaining his sentence, Erickson said the crime occurred "in the heat of the moment” and was not premeditated.

The sentence was a shocking turn of events for the Gibson family, who asked Erickson for a life sentence, sparking outrage and disbelief. The family, which wore purple in observance of domestic violence, called Erickson’s decision “biased,” citing his reference to an appearance by Jennifer in court two weeks before her murder.

“I do not feel justice was served for my daughter today - I don’t,” said Jennifer’s mother, Colleen Gibson, following the sentencing. “My life has turned upside down and he has literally torn my family apart. I’m always looking to see my daughter and I’ll never be able to do that again.”  

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According to court documents, Novak grabbed a large kitchen knife following an argument with Gibson, stabbing her 10 times and inflicting five slash wounds, including one to her neck. Novak, who had three children with Gibson, was arrested hours later when law enforcement converged on their 206 S. Third Ave. home.

Authorities were notified about the incident by Novak’s parents, who were allegedly called by Novak earlier to pick up his children. Novak also spoke to his brother about the incident, according to court documents, before officers arrived on scene at approximately 10:30 a.m. to arrest Novak.

Novak pleaded guilty on Jan. 3 to first-degree manslaughter, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. Charges of first- and second-degree murder, which carry a mandatory life sentence, were dismissed.

Jennifer Gibson’s sister, Amanda, said the family had never heard some of the testimony given during Tuesday’s court session, including facts presented by Assistant Attorney General Brent Kempema that some of Novak’s cuts to Jennifer Gibson’s throat went so deep that only the knife’s hilt stopped them.

Additionally, Kempema said Novak’s moniker on Playstation games was “Dream Killer,” and he possessed books idealizing killings.

And Kempema said Gibson’s defensive wounds made it clear that she “put up a brave fight - that she struggled,” and, for a while, likely had the knowledge she was going to die. The prosecution asked Judge Erickson to sentence Novak to life in prison, saying it was necessary to protect the public.

Aside from what she feels was a lackluster sentence, those moments of testimony were the toughest for Amanda.

“ ... When Matthew entered the courthouse he grinned at me, and he didn’t look at my family when he apologized,” Gibson said. “I think that shows he isn’t remorseful, but I guess Judge Erickson didn’t see it that way.”

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Novak’s attorney Jeff Burns declined to comment following Tuesday’s court session, but spoke during court proceedings, telling the judge and attendees that Novak has accepted his actions were “wrong” and described the relationship between the couple like a balloon.

“Neither of them are perfect ... were perfect,” Burns said, asking the judge to consider a 34-year sentence, with parole eligibility in 17 years. “It’s kind of like a balloon, in the good times it shrunk down and at the bad times it got to a breaking point. Then, just in an instant, it broke.”

Novak briefly addressed the court while wearing shackles and a black and white Beadle County Jail jumpsuit, apologizing and taking responsibility for his “terrible” actions the morning of Aug. 31.

“I can’t undo what I did, no matter how much I want to. It’s terrible what I did,” Novak said. “I know God has a purpose for me and … I do believe that I made a very, very bad mistake, and I wish that I could be a member of society that a lot of people know I can be - a good person.”

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley issued a statement Tuesday afternoon, saying the “significant” sentence reflects the “horrific violent actions of this defendant to the victim,” asking the public to keep the Gibson family in mind.

What’s next

Along with his 40-year sentence, Novak was ordered to pay roughly $8,500 in restitution to the family and court, and is embroiled in a battle with the Gibson family for custody of Jennifer’s four children, three of whom were fathered by Novak.

But that might not be the end of the road for Novak.

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Amanda and Colleen Gibson said Tuesday they intend to file a civil suit against Novak, due to the “severe emotional and mental trauma” they have endured.

But, for now, the family is focused on finding a “new normal.”

“I’ll never be the same person I was August 30, because I lost my best friend the next day and it feels like I’m living a whole new life now,” Amanda said. “And I won’t remember my sister as someone who was brutally murdered, but as a happy, smart, mother who was one of the best parts of my life.”

Related Topics: WOONSOCKETCRIME
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