WARNING: This article contains vulgarity and content some readers may find disturbing.
At Day 4 of the homicide and dismemberment trial, jurors watched a real-life horror movie that few people will ever see in their lifetime.
They saw the accused, Mathew Cramer, now 22, remove his jacket, pick up a machete and start to decapitate the head of his victim, Shane Nguyen, 55, a popular Bishop Dwenger band dad and food truck operator. The video that lasted less than a minute was shot on Cramer’s cell phone by his “best friend,” Jacob Carreon-Hamilton, inside J4, the storage unit where Cramer slept.
Accused takes the stand after video shows him hacking corpse with a machete
Lit by flashlight, Cramer waited for his cue before the video showed him removing his jacket and getting to work. He hacked at his victim’s neck 20 times, took a break, hacked five more times, took another break and then hacked about another 20 times, before pushing the head aside with his foot.
It was difficult work, Cramer said on the witness box, and he did it on the suggestion of his friend Jacob. By describing the horrific events, Cramer confessed to Nguyen’s death and dismemberment.
Autopsy photos were ‘difficult to look at’
During morning testimony, jurors saw 15 autopsy photos that spared nothing: Nyugen’s lifeless skull with his eyes closed, his torso with bloody stumps at the shoulders and hips, then the arms and legs. Forensic pathologist Dr. Scott Wagner told the jurors the photos would be difficult to look at.
Cramer is charged with murder, abuse of a corpse and resisting law enforcement. Allen County prosecutors say he choked, then killed, Nguyen with blunt force trauma on April 23, 2021 inside his storage unit at U-Stor on North Coliseum Boulevard. According to court testimony, Cramer returned to the unit the next evening after a trip to Goshen to collect his friend in order to dismember the body and bury it.
Early on April 25, while Cramer and Carreon-Hamilton were driving the victim’s black 2013 Honda Odyssey, a Fort Wayne officer spotted them behind the Stoller Building, a block away from U-Stor. During a pursuit, Carreon-Hamilton bailed out of the car. Cramer took over the wheel and crashed through the BP station parking lot at Lake Avenue and North Anthony Boulevard and then through a backyard fence on Forest Park Boulevard.
At that time, they both evaded law enforcement.
That Sunday, Carreon-Hamilton returned to Goshen where he lived with his girlfriend, Monique Rivera. Cramer walked the streets of Fort Wayne, barefoot, and then bought some shoes at Target. He got back to Goshen by bus, but was kicked out of Rivera’s car and dumped by some woods.
Accused picked up walking on Highway 31 near Lakeville
During a manhunt on April 26, a Fort Wayne officer found Cramer walking along Highway 31 near Lakeville and took him into custody without a problem, court testimony indicated. Carreon-Hamilton had already turned himself in to Goshen police. A third man, Cody Clements, helped them buy a machete, hacksaw, tarp and plastic bags, among other equipment, but wasn’t charged.
In an unusual step for a homicide trial, defense attorney Robert Scremin put Cramer on the stand, possibly in an attempt to gain some sympathy for his irregular life. During the week’s trial, not one friend or family member has been present in the courtroom and, on the stand, Cramer didn’t mention a mother or a father, only a sister, a niece and a nephew. Cramer is learning disabled, struggles to read and had no job. He lived in Fort Wayne for six months on disability and unemployment, he said.
Accused said he ‘snapped’ when victim brought up his niece and nephew
It was Nguyen bringing up Cramer’s niece and nephew that made Cramer snap and want to kill him, he said. He met Nguyen in early April while he was walking close to the Glenbrook mall. Nyugen asked him if he wanted a ride. The relationship continued including one sexual encounter inside the storage unit where Nguyen performed oral sex on Cramer, but Nyugen wanted more for the rides to Goshen and Elkhart where Cramer is originally from.
“Did you want him to ‘s— your d—?’ Scremin said, repeating the words used by Cramer on the stand. “No,” was his response.
But sex was what Nguyen expected as clarified in texts read out in court and printed for the jurors. Cramer had reached out to see if Nguyen would take him to Elkhart on April 23, the day Nguyen was killed. When Nguyen said he expected something in return, Cramer sent him a photo of his private parts.
On the way back from Elkhart, Cramer said Nguyen rubbed his thigh and Cramer told him to stop, telling him to wait until they got to the storage unit.
They got to the storage unit and Nguyen told Cramer to get in the back seat of his van. Nguyen took off his shirt and mentioned that the next time there was a sexual encounter, maybe Cramer’s niece and nephew could be involved. That’s when he snapped, Cramer said, despite other claims to the contrary in earlier testimony.
Cramer put him in a choke hold and dragged him into the storage unit, he said. Worried that he wasn’t dead, he delivered a deadly blow after he punched him, perhaps bashing his head on the concrete floor.
“I didn’t want him to wake up,” Cramer said on the stand.
Allen County Prosecutor Tom Chaille said that despite the unseemliness of the situation, Cramer used Nguyen for rides and benefited from food and drink. Nguyen at one point bought Cramer food from Pizza Hut and a six pack of Corona beer.
At the end of the day, Scremin asked that the charge be changed to voluntary manslaughter. Scremin said that because Cramer snapped, he acted under sudden heat. Superior Court Judge David Zent denied the request.
Murder carries a charge of between 45 and 65 years; voluntary manslaughter, a Level 2 felony, between 10 and 20 years.
Closing arguments are set for Tuesday. The jury will most likely deliberate on the verdict the same day. If Cramer is convicted for murder, the jury will decide if he deserves life without parole.