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2 sentenced to life in prison in slaying of Henderson teen

Two teens were sentenced Tuesday to life in prison with the possibility of parole for the June 2018 slaying of 17-year-old Matthew Minkler, who died surrounded by people he believed were his friends during a party in an abandoned Henderson house.

“Nobody ever called 911 after this kid was shot — nobody, nobody,” District Judge Douglas Herndon said as he handed down the sentence. “All these people that are supposedly friends with Matthew, and not a single one.”

Kody Harlan, 19, and Jaiden Caruso, 18, were found guilty in August of first-degree murder and robbery with a deadly weapon in connection the June 8, 2018, shooting. Harlan also was convicted of being an accessory to murder.

Both will be eligible for parole in 20 years.

“As parents, we’re just not supposed to bury our children,” Herndon said. “Not in just situations that are preventable, but in situations that are mind boggling.”

Prosecutors have said Caruso, 16 at the time, fired the fatal shot and afterward shared a video of Matthew’s body in a pool of blood on Snapchat while Harlan, 17 at the time, took cash from the victim’s pockets.

“Bro,” Caruso said in the Snapchat video, “I just caught a body.”

Attempted to clean up murder scene

The pair returned to the house, at 2736 Cool Lilac Ave., shortly afterward to clean up the scene and hide Matthew’s body inside a downstairs closet under a plastic sheet. Harlan dragged the body into the closet, police have said.

“Matthew had a very trusting heart, and he was never good at seeing the ugly or the bad that some people possessed,” his mother, Jamie Minkler, said Tuesday. “My Matthew just didn’t have that kind of heart.”

At trial, Harlan’s attorney, Ryan Helmick, conceded that his client was guilty of accessory to murder but pointed to Caruso for the more serious charges, arguing that Harlan was asleep on a couch in the living room at the time of the shooting.

Caruso’s lawyer, Mace Yampolsky, acknowledged to jurors that Caruso fired the .357-caliber revolver that killed Matthew, but the attorney blamed drugs and alcohol for the shooting.

“My deepest apologies to you and everyone who has suffered from the loss of Matthew,” Caruso said to Matthew’s family before he was sentenced. “There was no plan to hurt your son.”

When it was Harlan’s turn to speak, he read from a lengthy statement he had prepared, saying he “never thought in a million years” he could be convicted of first-degree murder for falling asleep on a couch.

“I appreciate some of what you said, Mr. Harlan, but the reality is in cases like this, it’s not always about who pulled the trigger. I mean, you can sit up there as long as you want, and every night you’re in prison, and say, ‘I didn’t kill this man,’” Herndon said. “But so many of these situations arise because of a combination of factors and a combination of people.”

‘Long live Matthew Minkler’

During the hearing, Matthew’s family — most of them wearing pink shirts that read, “Long live Matthew Minkler” — packed the courtroom gallery.

“Losing you has left me with a broken heart and no way of healing, just trying to make it to the next day,” said one of his older sisters, Deseray Roberts. “This has left an empty hole in our family.”

Matthew was the youngest of six siblings and Jamie and Steven Minkler’s only child together.

He was a junior at Silverado High School at the time of his death and would have graduated in May. He loved playing video games, was a Packers fan and he dreamed of one day starting his own company, according to this family.

He leaves behind his parents, siblings, three nieces and a 1-year-old nephew named for him.

Contact Rio Lacanlale at rlacanlale@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0381. Follow @riolacanlale on Twitter.

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