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Emmett man gets 54 years in prison for shooting Eagle Police officer

Officer Brandon Austin survived the shooting, but has been unable to return to his job.
Credit: Patrick Orr/ACSO
Matthew Kelly listens to his attorney after his Feb. 5, 2021 sentencing for shooting an Eagle Police officer.

BOISE, Idaho — A 21-year-old Emmett man who shot and badly injured an officer with Eagle Police during a pursuit last summer was sentenced Friday to decades behind bars.

Matthew Stillhallis Kelly sat back in his chair with a stunned look on his face as the sentence came down: 54 years behind bars, with 35 years before he will be eligible for parole. Seated in the courtroom gallery, Kelly's mother began to cry. 

Prosecutor Brett Judd described the spree of thefts and break-ins that culminated in the July 13, 2020 shooting of Sgt. Brandon Austin. 

Kelly had started out stealing things to pawn in order to fuel his addiction to methamphetamine, the prosecutor said. He told detectives during interviews that at first, he targeted big box stores like Lowes and Home Depot, walking out with thousands of dollars in tools while listening to police scanner traffic on one earbud headphone.

Credit: Ada County Jail
Matthew Kelly, 21, of Emmett, was booked into the Ada County Jail Monday on numerous felony charges including aggravated battery and burglary.

But the young man's motivations soon morphed from getting money for drugs into something else, Judd said: The thrill of getting away with it. 

Kelly described the "rush" he got from stealing, telling investigators that eventually, shoplifting from large corporations felt too easy. By May of 2020, he had turned to burglaries instead, sawing off a shotgun and using it to shoot the locks and hinges off of businesses to get inside after they closed for the night.

RELATED: Emmett man pleads guilty to shooting Eagle Police officer

Judd told the judge that Kelly laughed out loud as he described committing the burglaries to police.

"He talked about the rush he gets from doing this. That's what this is about," he said. "This is not someone who is telling the story of his thefts out of remorse."

On June 18, according to the prosecutor, Kelly committed his first home burglary at an Ada County house while the occupants were still inside, creeping in through an open garage door and stealing a wallet and a saw, slashing the homeowner's car tires on his way out for good measure. 

He and his father, Kevin Kelly, went on to team up on a series of more home burglaries, ransacking houses, ripping copper wiring out of walls and making off with expensive tools, wedding rings and other jewelry, medication, a spoon collection, and nearly a dozen guns, including the nine-millimeter Kelly later used to shoot Austin. 

On July 4, he crawled in through a dog door into a home shared by two women, aged 75 and 81. One of the women told police she woke up to find the 21-year-old in her bedroom, standing over her. She sprang from her bed, and chased Kelly and his father out of her house, only to realize later that the men had pilfered her prized collection of silver. 

Credit: ACSO
Eagle Police Officer Brandon Austin left a Boise hospital Wednesday. He is home recovering from two gunshot wounds.

Judd said the woman is still grappling with "strong feelings of terror and violation" over the break-in, startling at unexpected noises and afraid to be in her own home.

Days later, Kelly entered another sleeping woman's bedroom during a home burglary. The victim woke up to see Kelly snatch up her purse and run away.

In all, Kelly and his father left more than 20 theft victims in their wake, not counting retail stores, Judd said. Much of what was taken in the spree was later recovered, with tools and other stolen possessions found stacked inside and outside of the RV where Kelly and his father were living in Emmett. Other items - including the silver collection - were recovered from Kevin Kelly's truck, which had been repossessed. 

RELATED: Injured Eagle Police officer released from the hospital, gets escort home

The father-son duo had not even bothered to pawn much of what they had taken, the prosecutor said.

"They had stolen for the rush," Judd said. "Obviously, they had more than enough that they needed to support their meth habit. They were stealing for fun."

The crime spree came to an end on July 13, after another early-morning burglary in which Kelly stole a yellow motorcycle. The motorcycle's owner called police to report the theft, and at about 7:47 a.m., Eagle Police Officer Brandon Austin spotted Kelly riding it near Highway 16 and Beacon Light Road.

Austin began pursuing the motorcycle, calling in a description of Kelly and telling dispatchers "he's not going terribly fast, but I'm not up on him yet."

The officer continued to give updates over the radio as Kelly tried to get away, at one point turning onto the greens at the River Birch golf course before the engine blew and the motorcycle lost power. 

Kelly hopped off the motorcycle and began to run across the golf course as Austin followed behind him in the car. Then, the officer saw the fleeing man turn, and his elbow cock back.

Kelly fired through the windshield of Austin's patrol car, hitting the officer in the arm and shoulder. Austin returned fire through the windshield, then switched the gun to his undamaged left hand and climbed out of the patrol car, but fell.

RELATED: Emmett man accused of shooting Eagle Police officer tied to 2 Fourth of July break-ins

Kelly stops running, the prosecutor says, and raises the gun.

"Austin is lying there bleeding, and the defendant squares up, aims, and fires at him again," Judd said.

The officer said later that as he struggled to tie a tourniquet around his arm, his thoughts drifted to his toddler son, the prosecutor said. 

Another deputy arrived at the golf course, and drove Austin towards an approaching ambulance, which whisked him away to Saint Alphonsus for surgery. 

Kelly kept running and ultimately took cover in a cornfield, where he huddled and called his father to come pick him up as law enforcement launched a manhunt. Kevin Kelly tried to drive out to the area, but was intercepted by deputies who talked his son into coming out and surrendering. 

Kelly ultimately pleaded guilty to three counts of burglary, four counts of grand theft, and aggravated battery on an officer.

Austin survived the shooting, but needed a large metal plate and pins to repair his shattered arm. He has not been able to return to work with the Ada County Sheriff's Office, Judd said, and it is unclear if he ever will.

The prosecutor asked for a forty-year fixed sentence, telling the judge that it was important to send a message that Kelly's conduct was unacceptable.

"You have a chance to set the standard for what happens when you victimize over 20 members of the community, shoot a law enforcement officer, and leave him bleeding so you can run away," Judd said.

RELATED: Bond set at $2 million for Emmett man accused of shooting deputy

But Christian Collins, Kelly's defense attorney, argued that although the defendant's crimes were "extremely serious," they did not warrant a sentence of that magnitude. 

"This is not a murder case. Thankfully, Deputy Austin is still alive," he said.

The attorney noted that Kelly had not had previous run-ins with the law, and described him as a hard worker who grew up hunting, fishing, and collecting rocks until he was injured on a job site and introduced to methamphetamine. 

"You see a young man who was led down the path of addiction by a family friend and his own father," Collins said. "But for this addiction, I don't believe we're here. I don't believe we have the burglaries, we don't have a deputy in hot pursuit, and I don't believe we have a shooting."

Kelly was a quiet boy who struggled with a speech impediment in school and dealt with both ADHD and PTSD, the lawyer said. After his older brother died, Collins said, both of Kelly's parents retreated into alcohol in their grief, neglecting their younger son and leaving him to "fend for himself."

RELATED: Boise State conducting crime victims study

Collins hypothesized that drugs had given Kelly the feelings of euphoria and courage he had lacked as a young boy, and urged the judge to show mercy. 

"Frankly, I believe there is still hope for Matt," he said. "I believe his life still has value. I believe he can be rehabilitated."

In a brief statement, Kelly echoed his attorney's request for leniency.

"I just hope you realize that I'm not the person the prosecution is trying to make me out to be. I know it looks bad, but that's not who I am," he said. "Everything I have done, I do show remorse for it, and I wish I didn't do anything I ever did out here."

But Judge Jonathan Medema was not swayed.

He told Kelly that he believed that his drug use contributed to what happened, but did not fully account for the decisions Kelly made.

"You were willing to kill another human being because you didn't want to go to prison," Medema said.

Being shot has changed Austin's life forever, he said, adding that the victims of the burglaries, although not physically harmed, are affected as well.

"Police officers, on a daily basis, do an incredibly difficult and dangerous job. On a daily basis, they have to interact with people who don't want to go to jail, even though they know they're doing something wrong," he said. "In the back of their minds, those officers have to go to work knowing that one of those people - one in a million, perhaps - is someone like you."

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