WARNING: This story contains content some readers may find disturbing.
It didn’t take long for the jury to recommend life without parole for a young man they’d found guilty of murder in the dismemberment trial that ran for nearly two weeks in Allen Superior Court.
Mathew Cramer was barely 21 when he choked and clubbed to death 55-year-old Shane Nguyen, a popular food truck operator and Bishop Dwenger High School band dad, as they were parked outside the storage unit where Cramer lived.
On Wednesday, about three hours after the jury had returned from an overnight sequestration and found Cramer guilty of murder, abuse of a corpse and resisting law enforcement, they returned around 2 p.m. to add to the verdict, life without parole. The sentencing is set for Nov. 28.
Since the jury had already found Cramer guilty of murder, their decision centered on the dismemberment of his victim’s corpse.
Convicted killer had an IQ of 81, clinical and forensic psychologist testifies
During closing arguments, defense attorney Robert Scremin told the jury they would be sentencing a young man to die in prison. He went back to the testimony presented Wednesday by Dr. Stephen Ross, a clinical and forensic psychologist who has appeared in court here many times.
Although Ross’s research was limited because he didn’t have all the evidence presented at the trial – only the probable cause – his findings revealed that Cramer had an IQ of 81, a “low average” number when 82-90 is considered a low average IQ. An average IQ ranges between 90-110, Ross said.
Ross also said that he consulted nearly 200 pages of historical psychological data for Cramer and found he lacked Chromosome 15, a genetic disorder that governs behavior. The findings showed that even with treatment, Cramer progressively misbehaved. Cramer was diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety, depression and impulsivity. It was also determined that Cramer’s father was emotionally abusive.
Convicted diagnosed with anti-social personality disorder
Ross’s diagnosis was anti-social personality disorder, and he said Cramer was at times overwhelmed by anxiety and fear. Ross did not find any indications of schizophrenia or hallucinations, but thought Cramer appeared autistic “susceptible” and possibly bi-polar.
“I needed more testing on Bi-polar,” Ross said.
Ross referred to a 2015 evaluation in Elkhart that indicated Cramer was sociopathic and psychopathic with severe disobedience (tendencies) and could cause harm to others.
“He’s smart enough to get things done, but not smart enough to look at the consequences,” Ross said in trial testimony given over a Zoom-style interview.
Prosecutor Tesa Helge pointed out Cramer was a high school graduate, but no one mentioned which high school. Reporting done in 2021 indicated he was kicked out of Elkhart Memorial High School and spent time at Bashor Children’s Home in Goshen. He played basketball for Lifeline Ministries in Goshen and one counselor said at the time that Cramer “didn’t understand things,” but wanted to be well liked.
Tom Chaille, lead prosecutor, maintained that Cramer was fully cognizant and very methodical about what he did to Nguyen and wasn’t under the psychological domination of his friend, Jacob Carreon-Hamilton. Carreon-Hamilton directed him as he dismembered Nguyen’s body in the storage unit about 24 hours after he killed him. Both Cramer and Nguyen were grown men and any sexual encounter wasn’t forced, he said.
But Scremin disagreed, saying once again that Nguyen picked his victims and Mathew Cramer was a perfect target. Walking along alone, homeless, jobless, learning disabled, Nguyen pulled up and used a pickup line: “do you need a ride?”
That was apparently on April 3, and 20 days later, Nguyen was choked and clubbed and lying dead on a tarp inside the storage unit where there was no running water and no heat.
Scremin said Nguyen had told Cramer he was bisexual. He didn’t want money for that first favor – a ride to Elkhart. Instead he wanted a sexual favor which Cramer granted in the storage unit.
But after that, Cramer said no when Nguyen said Cramer owed him something. At the end of the last ride on April 23, Nguyen allegedly had found out Cramer had a 10 and 13-year-old niece and nephew and suggested they join them for the next encounter. Cramer decided he was going to kill Nguyen and when the older man got in the back seat with Cramer and took off his shirt, that’s when Cramer put him in a choke hold and “exploded on him.”
After he killed Nguyen, Cramer took the stolen van up to Elkhart to visit his friend Jacob Carreon-Hamilton and the two of them decided to dismember Nguyen and bury his body, buying supplies the next day at Lowe’s and Walmart in Goshen.
Scremin said Cramer was under the domination of his “idiot friend,” but Chaille and Helge said Cramer needed no other person to make the decision. The body had to go somewhere, removed from evidence.
Chaille said after the verdicts that the most crucial piece of evidence, in his opinion, was the dismemberment video shown twice, once on Thursday during regular testimony and again on Tuesday during closing arguments. Lasting less than a minute, it was only a portion of the video Carreon-Hamilton took while filming Cramer hacking the body with a machete purchased at Walmart.
It was the kind of video that has to be rare because dismembering victims is also rare, at least in Allen County. In the last 20 years or so, there have been two besides Nguyen, according to the Allen County Coroner.
The prosecution had a rough night, partially because with all the evidence presented – Cramer’s admission of guilt during a police interview and on the stand, the bloody and gruesome autopsy photos and the video of Cramer taking a machete to decapitate his victim with 43 blows – the jury spent four hours deliberating Tuesday, and called it a night.
The move gave hope to the defense, who argued with all the mitigating factors against Cramer, it wasn’t murder.
After the verdicts, Scremin said Cramer will most likely appeal the decision.
“We thought the mitigating factors far outweighed the life without parole,” Scremin said. An earlier legal move to change the murder charge to voluntary manslaughter was denied by Allen Superior Court Judge David Zent. “We are disappointed with the verdict but we have to respect the jury.”
What Scremin really wanted to convey to the jury is that the relationship between Nguyen and Cramer wasn’t something that Mathew Cramer started. He was remorseful, but if it didn’t seem as though he felt that, Scremin said Cramer’s whole affect “is flat.”
Chaille praised the quick work done by the Fort Wayne Police Department, the kind of investigation that led to the capture about 48 hours later of the three young men implicated in the crime. Watching and looking as the evidence took a toll on the staff, but the efforts went to showing what Cramer was capable of doing and senselessness of the crime.
Chaille estimated that he and his assistant prosecutor Tesa Helge have tried 15 murder trials this year.