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VERDICT BRINGS CLOSURE COUPLE FOUND GUILTY IN 1998 SLAYING.

Byline: Lisa Mascaro Staff Writer

A Chatsworth couple driven by ``greed and lust'' will spend the rest of their lives in prison after being found guilty Monday of murdering her then-husband to collect $1.1 million in insurance money while they carried on a torrid affair.

Matthew and Jennifer Fletcher - who married and had two daughters following the 1998 slaying of Joel Andrew Shanbrom - were found guilty of murder, conspiracy and insurance fraud following the four-month jury trial in San Fernando Superior Court. They were living in a $1 million mansion in a gated community in Chatsworth at the time of their 2002 arrest.

Relatives of Shanbrom, a Los Angeles Unified School District policeman who would have turned 39 on Wednesday, said the guilty verdict means they can start rebuilding their lives.

``This is a closure of a chapter. It doesn't bring Joey back, but now we know justice and truth have been served,'' said Karen Shanbrom, one of Joel's sisters. ``None of us are going to be dancing in the street, but at least we know they didn't get away with it.''

Shanbrom's father, Terry Shanbrom, choked up as he described the struggle to get out of bed and go to work in the years since his son was fatally shot.

``There definitely is some closure,'' said the father, a mortgage broker who relocated to Lancaster because he couldn't bear living in the San Fernando Valley, where the slaying took place.

``It was dark out; now the sun is up.''

Despite Joel's job with the LAUSD and Jennifer's work at a dental office, the couple was struggling financially, prosecutors said. They had lost their home and moved with their 3-year-old son, Jacob, to a rental home in Northridge, while they both moonlighted selling insurance.

At a convention, they met Matthew Fletcher, who convinced them to join him working at his insurance company. Matthew and Jennifer also began a torrid affair, prosecutors said, although Matthew Fletcher told the court that he considered Joel Shanbrom a friend.

The night of March 18, 1998, Jennifer's mother found Joel Shanbrom's body in the den of his home, slumped on a couch in front of the TV, fatally shot in the head. Jennifer told police she had been upstairs with Jacob when she heard a commotion.

Seven months before Joel was killed, Fletcher and the Shanbroms took out a $500,000 life insurance policy, prosecutors said. Six months later, Jennifer reinstated a $300,000 life insurance policy on Joel without his knowledge.

Matthew and Jennifer later married and had two daughters together. They drove cars with vanity plates reading ``QWTWRKN'' and ``KR8WLTH,'' monikers for ``quit working'' and ``create wealth.''

Each was charged with first-degree murder with the special circumstances of lying in wait and murder for financial gain, which could have made them eligible for the death penalty. Matthew Fletcher also was charged with bigamy.

Before the verdicts were read, Judge Ronald S. Cohen admonished the courtroom's capacity crowd to refrain from any outbursts. Matthew Fletcher, 45, who had defended himself during the four-month trial, shook his head as he was found guilty of all counts.

Barry O. Bernstein, the attorney for Jennifer Fletcher, 34, declined comment outside court.

They are expected to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole at a hearing Sept. 24.

The three children are living with a relative.

``Ultimately, it came down to lust and greed,'' prosecutor Michael R. Powell said after the hearing. ``That's the ultimate reason why this happened ... Unfortunately, a lot of people's lives were shattered.''

Jennifer's mother, Diane Bates, who was named in the criminal complaint but never charged because she was granted immunity in exchange for her testimony to a grand jury, said her daughter and son-in-law are innocent.

``Today they just convicted two innocent people,'' she said outside the courthouse.

``She was a perfect child - never did anything wrong.''

Fletcher family friend Debbie Harrington said she was ``outraged'' at the verdict and had thought the couple would be acquitted and freed. She had planned to greet Jennifer with presents she had in the car.

But Joel Shanbrom's brother, James, praised prosecutors for their diligence in pursuing the case.

``My brother and I were getting really close, closer than ever, and they took him,'' said James, who lives in Lancaster.

He said the ``streets are safer'' with the Fletchers behind bars for the rest of their lives.

``No one will be conned by them.''

Lisa Mascaro, (818) 713-3761

lisa.mascaro(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) Karen Shanbrom, left, cries in the arms of a friend in San Fernando Superior Court on Monday after a jury found Jennifer and Matthew Fletcher guilty of killing her brother, Joel Shanbrom, in 1998 for insurance money.

(2 -- color) Matthew and Jennifer Fletcher are expected to be sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole.

Tom Mendoza/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 10, 2004
Words:821
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