A man who killed his ex-wife's new husband in the couple's Virginia home was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison.
Prosecutors say Minh Nguyen broke into the Ashburn home where his ex-wife, Denise Mattison, lived with her new husband, Corey Mattison, on Jan. 15, 2015. Nguyen burst into the home about 30 miles west of D.C. and shot Mattison four times. Mortally wounded, Mattison led Nguyen out the back door into the carport. Two children were home at the time of the shooting.
The victim's widow calls her husband a hero for leading Nguyen away from kids.
"Corey, he knew exactly what he was doing," Denise Mattison said after Tuesday's sentencing. "He knew he was taking the danger and he was luring it away from us. There's no question in my mind from the moment he came into my life he was continuously trying to do everything he could to protect me and protect our children."
Prosecutors told the judge Nguyen was motivated by a "desire and obsession to control his ex-wife and her new family." Testimony showed Nguyen flew into a rage when he learned Corey Mattison was caring for two of the three children Nguyen shared with Denise. She had stepped out to pick up their oldest daughter at a nearby school.
Nguyen fired the first bullet into the front door before he went in shooting.
"This was probably the most satisfying moment of his life. He had all the power," said Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Jason Faw. "This was everything he had ever fantasized about. This was his dream and he lived it."
Even as Mattison lay dying, Nguyen jumped on top of him and beat him in the head, investigators said. It was Nguyen's mother who arrived at the scene and then jumped on top of Nguyen to subdue him just as police arrived.
Nguyen's family asked the judge for mercy, pointing to his struggles with mental illness. From 2008-2011, Nguyen was a successful social media entrepreneur, but after his marriage to Denise ended, he fell into depression and became so destitute he was living in a car at one point.
In January, Nguyen pleaded no contest to murder, malicious wounding, and breaking and entering in Mattison's death -- a plea criticized by Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney for Loudoun County Joshua Steward.
"In a guilty plea, you stand up and you recognize morally, if nothing else, 'Yes, I am guilty, I did this and I deserve to be punished,'" he said. "No contest, you're essentially just saying, 'Listen, I know if I went to trial I'd lose.'"
In Tuesday's hearing, Nguyen told Judge Burke McCahill, "I place the blame for everything squarely at my feet." He soon broke down sobbing as he began to apologize to Denise Mattison, his children and Corey Mattison's family.
But Judge McCahill told Nguyen he still posed a potential danger to Mattison and her family, sentencing him to the life term, far above the recommended guideline of 25-42 years.
Denise Mattison said the stiff sentence does not give her a sense of satisfaction.
"In terms of closure, there's no such thing as closure," she said. "There' s no victory here. Am I able to not say to my children when they ask, are they going to continue to be in danger, can I now give them that promise? I can."
Mattison's murder robbed Kathy Vestal of her only child.
"There are no winners here today," she said. "We're all losers. We came here without Corey and we go home without him. I just hope there will be some healing taking place on both sides. That's all I can ask for, pray for."
The eldest of Minh Nguyen and Denise Mattison's children testified for the prosecution during the sentencing hearing. Maddy, 15, now considers the victim her father and has taken his last name.
"I did my best and I wanted to honor Corey, my dad, anyway possible, and I wanted to do anything I could to ensure my family would be safe," she said.
The youngest of Denise Mattison's children is baby Corey, named for her late father. Denise Mattison was pregnant at the time of her husband's murder and gave birth in September 2015.