NEW LONDON, Conn. (WTNH) -- A New London man faced a judge Monday after he was accused of beating his neighbors to death and then setting their home on fire to try and cover up the crime.
29-year-old Joel Matthews appeared in New London Superior court wearing a hospital gown. He is accused of killing 57-year-old Noel Starback and his girlfriend Sherry Roush.
"I never expected him to do something like that because he's always been very mature and very respectful toward me," said Toni Sullivan, who grew up with Matthew's mother.
Police say Matthews had gotten into a fight with the couple who lived on the first floor of a home on Blinman Street on Friday night and struck them with a blunt object. Neighbors say it was a baseball bat. He then told police he set the house on fire where he and his mother lived on the second floor to cover up the crime.
"Only thing happening is that they were arguing and I guess he had too much to drink or something," said neighbor Arthea Thornton.
"I'm here to let her know I'm her friend," Sullivan said. "I'm here for her. I love her."
Matthews mother was not at court, but friends of Starback and Roush were. Starback is a talented artist and carpenter whose work can be seen throughout the city.
David Butler lives across the street and saw the flames burst from the home. He knew the victims, as well as Matthews.
"I couldn't see anything weird about the guy, so he must have snapped or whatever," Butler said. "Nobody deserved what happened to them. My girlfriend and I spent most of last summer on their back deck with them grilling steaks and just enjoying the summer. He was a great artist."
"I hope that guy goes to jail for the rest of his living years," said Melissa Denure, a friend of the victims.
Denure left flowers and a card on the front step of the heavily damaged home as part of a growing memorial to a couple well known in New London. Stuffed animals and candles have also been left along with food for the victims' cat, who still tries to get into the house.
"They were just people. They were struggling to live and they're just genuinely nice people and Sherry was very good person. She loved cats and I love cats," Denure said.
Matthews is charged with capital felony, two counts of murder, and second-degree arson. He also served three years for shooting a man back in 2005.
Capital felony could bring the possibility of death or life in prison without the possibility of release if convicted. This could be affected by the possibility of the death penalty being repealed.
Matthews is held on $1 million cash bond and is due at Superior Court in New London on May 1st.
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