A 23-year-old Gardnerville man with a lengthy criminal history is to be arraigned Friday on a first-degree murder charge in the 2008 shooting death of Benjamin Oxley, killed as he slept in his Wildhorse home.
James Matlean of Gardnerville - the roommate of the victim's ex-wife - was charged Wednesday with murder in the first degree with a deadly weapon.
If convicted, Matlean faces life in prison without parole. The district attorney has the option of requesting the death penalty.
A 4-inch-thick report used to obtain an arrest warrant formed the basis of the information alleging Matlean shot Oxley.
District Attorney Mark Jackson said Matlean was the only suspect. Jackson said the victim's ex-wife Dawn Oxley - who figured prominently in investigators' reports - was considered a witness.
"The person we believe to be responsible is in custody," Jackson said Thursday. "The complaint charges him and him alone. As in all cases, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office and the District Attorney always invite people to come forward with any information."
Deputies were called to Benjamin Oxley's home at 2800 Wildhorse Lane in the Johnson Lane area at 3:30 a.m. Feb. 21, 2008, and found him dead of a shotgun wound to the head. His wife and then 6-year-old daughter were at the residence as well as his wife's teenage brother who was living with the family.
Matlean was served Wednesday with an arrest warrant in Douglas County Jail where he was wrapping up an eight-month sentence for a probation violation in an unrelated offense.
He is being held without bail on the murder charge.
According to the report, witnesses told investigators that Matlean and Dawn Oxley, 37, drank frequently and talked about custody issues involving her ex-husband.
The night before Oxley was murdered, one witness told investigators Dawn Oxley and Matlean were drinking Southern Comfort.
"She wanted her daughter. She just wanted Ben dead," the witness said. "James (Matlean) said, 'You know what? I'll go kill him for you. Just give me the word and I'll go kill him right now as long as it means getting your daughter. I'll take a shotgun to his face and kill him.' Dawn just kept saying no like a broken record."
The Oxleys, who divorced in 2004, continued to go to court over custody of their daughter. In 2007, Dawn Oxley told investigators her ex-husband won primary custody and she was ordered to pay $250 a month for child support and medical benefits.
According to reports, Benjamin Oxley did not have a criminal record, but was contacted in a June 2007 battery investigation involving his ex-wife. The incident was classified as a mutual domestic battery. No charges were filed, and both parties agreed to leave each other alone.
Dawn Oxley told The Record-Courier in an interview the day of her ex-husband's death she hadn't seen him for weeks.
She said their only contact had been to arrange visitation with their daughter.
"I try to avoid him," she said. "He's my ex-husband and we didn't have a wonderful life together."
Cindy Graham, a close friend of Benjamin Oxley, said Thursday she welcomed the news of Matlean's arrest.
"We're glad James has been arrested, but it doesn't change the fact that there was absolutely no reason he killed Ben. He doesn't have one. He can't have one. I don't think Ben ever met him, so he kills a stranger?" she asked.
Matlean has had several contacts with law enforcement including three felony convictions by age 19.
In 2004, he was kicked out of a regimental discipline program for young offenders and sentenced to 12-36 months in Nevada State Prison for grand larceny of a motor vehicle.
He currently is in Douglas County Jail nearing the end of an eight-month sentence for stealing four cartons of cigarettes from a Gardnerville convenience story in April 2009.
Dawn Oxley served six months in Douglas County Jail in October 2009 after she lost her probation for a second conviction of driving under the influence.
She told East Fork Judge Jim EnEarl she had been using alcohol as an escape since her ex-husband's murder.
According to the investigators' reports, she reportedly called in August 2009 intoxicated and crying, "I can't take it anymore. Can I say I did it? Just take me to prison."
Other times, she denied knowledge of the murder.
In one interview with deputies, Dawn Oxley told deputies that Matlean told her he whispered, "This is for lying about Dawn," in the victim's ear before Oxley was shot.
She also said he woke her up the morning of the murder and said, "It's done."
The victim's wife told deputies she was awakened Feb. 21, 2008, "by a loud bang nose, felt her left ear ringing and went to tap her husband to find out if he heard the noise as well.
"She discovered the victim, ran from the room down the hallway where she discovered the front door open," the report said.
The woman told deputies she ran to her 6-year-old stepdaughter's room and called 911.
Her first comment to deputies was that she thought Dawn Oxley was involved, according to the report.
Tom Gregory, chief criminal deputy district attorney, praised investigators' efforts.
"The Douglas County Sheriff's Office never once let this case go. It's been an active case the whole time, they did their due diligence. Investigations in the sheriff's office get the kudos. We've been involved and kept in the loop, but this was their investigation," Gregory said Thursday.
Prosecutors have time to determine whether to seek the death penalty.
"It's up to the district attorney whether to request that of the jury," Gregory said.
The decision must be made within 30 days of the information being filed in district court. That time frame won't begin until the proceeding is bound over from East Fork Justice Court.
"We're not leaning one way or the other," Gregory said. "Requesting the death penalty is an incredibly important and serious decision. We are going to take the time allotted."
Other penalties for the charge include life with parole which means a minimum of 20 years, or a definite term of 50 years with a minimum of 20 years before parole consideration.
The deadly weapon enhancement adds 1-20 years at the discretion of the judge which must be consecutive to the murder sentence, Gregory said.
YOU CAN HELP
The 2008 murder of Benjamin Oxley remains under investigation. Anyone with information about the Feb. 21, 2008, killing is asked to contact Investigator Jon Storke at 782-9909 or Secret Witness, 782-7463.