True Crime Thursday – A Welcome Guilty Verdict

By Debbie Burke


In September, 2021, I wrote about the murder of Matt Hurley, the manager of a gym I belonged to. Although I was there that day, I was not an eyewitness. Here is the original post.

On July 13, 2023, almost two years after Matt’s murder, a jury in Kalispell, Montana found the shooter, Jonathan Douglas Shaw, 37, guilty of deliberate homicide and attempted deliberate homicide.

When I read the headline, I was elated that Matt’s family received a small measure of justice.

Yet that pale victory doesn’t begin to fill the loss caused by his death.

I didn’t know Matt well, but he was always friendly and helpful. By age 27, he’d earned the responsible position of general manager. The gym ran smoothly under his leadership. He was that rare boss loved by those he supervised. This photo captures Matt’s personality.

Then, on September 16, 2021, everything changed.

For weeks, Jonathan Shaw had been living in his truck and trailer in the gym parking lot. He’d purchased a membership that gave him access to showers and restrooms. At the trial, an employee testified his “creepy” behavior caused her and patrons to feel uncomfortable. He was warned he could not live there but he remained anyway.

On that Thursday, Matt and the assistant manager approached Shaw in the parking lot to refund his membership fees and tell him he could no longer stay there.

They were walking away when Shaw pulled a nine-millimeter handgun and followed them. He said to Matt: “You’re gonna die now” then shot him four times, fatally wounding him.

The assistant manager ran for help, calling 911.

A gym patron, William Keck, was also in the parking lot. He retrieved his own weapon from his truck and ordered Shaw to drop his gun. Shaw did not. Shots were exchanged. One of Shaw’s shots wounded Keck in the thigh. Despite his injury, Keck fired shots that incapacitated Shaw and neutralized the threat.

Shaw had pled not guilty to the deliberate homicide of Matt Hurley and the attempted deliberate homicide of William Keck. 

During the four-day trial, defense attorneys called only one witness: Shaw.

Shaw made several claims that conflicted with other testimony and evidence, as well as his own statements.

He claimed he did not know who the two men approaching him were. However, evidence contradicted him.

Daily Inter Lake quote:

Shaw said he did not know Hurley, [Deputy County Attorney] Frechette pointed out, but investigators found records of online searches including both Hurley’s given name and Fuel Fitness in the query from the day before the shooting.

Shaw claimed he didn’t know they were gym employees, although Matt wore a uniform shirt with the gym logo.

When they attempted to give him an envelope containing a refund of his gym membership fees, the assistant manager testified that Shaw refused the refund and demanded more money. That indicates Shaw not only knew who they were but also the reason that they approached him.

Shaw claimed self-defense, saying he believed they were armed and going to kill him. He admitted he never saw any weapons on them yet stated he was in fear for his life. They only had mobile phones.

Initially Shaw said he couldn’t hear a conversation between Matt and the assistant manager but later stated he heard them “whispering about him in insulting and possibly threatening terms.” 

He also claimed that coronary artery disease rendered him “unable to run away.” Yet he later said he “ran back” to his truck.

The defense attorney gave this closing statement: “The evidence is [Shaw} acted with justification. He was mistaken but his actions were reasonable in light of the circumstances.”

The jury didn’t buy Shaw’s justifications nor the defense’s closing statement. A little more than four hours after beginning deliberations, they returned with guilty verdicts on both counts.

Shaw will be sentenced on September 21, 2023, two years plus a few days after he murdered Matt and attempted to kill Keck. He faces a prison sentence up to 100 years.

Shortly after Matt’s death, coworkers wanted to memorialize his positive example and had t-shirts and buttons printed that read “Be Like Matt.” Almost two years later, his family, friends, co-workers, and even casual acquaintances, like myself, still feel the loss. Our community is poorer and sadder without him.

TKZ regular Brian Hoffman responded to my original post with an insightful comment: “It’s also a good reminder to those of us who write crime that the real experience and the fictional one are different.”

Yes, they are different.

In my books, I’ve created some truly despicable fictional villains. Fortunately, on the page, I can dispense justice that fits the crime.

But Matt’s murder isn’t fiction and I can’t rewrite Shaw’s fate.

The guilty verdict is welcome but the deep, empty hole remains in the hearts of those who cared for Matt.  

This entry was posted in #truecrimethursday, Writing by Debbie Burke. Bookmark the permalink.

About Debbie Burke

Debbie writes the Tawny Lindholm series, Montana thrillers infused with psychological suspense. Her books have won the Kindle Scout contest, the Zebulon Award, and were finalists for the Eric Hoffer Book Award and Her articles received journalism awards in international publications. She is a founding member of Authors of the Flathead and helps to plan the annual Flathead River Writers Conference in Kalispell, Montana. Her greatest joy is mentoring young writers.

32 thoughts on “True Crime Thursday – A Welcome Guilty Verdict

  1. Thank you, Debbie, for sharing that very sad story. I can’t begin to imagine how Matt’s family and friends feel.

    Have a great rest of the week!

    • Joe, I remain grateful for your kind support right after the murder happened. I was uncertain whether or not to post the story and sent you a draft to review. Thank you for your help and friendship.

  2. So sad. And so frustrating when things seem to take forever to go to court. But glad he was found guilty.

  3. Thanks for sharing this story, Debbie.

    A great reminder of how precious our friends and family are, and how quickly unexpected evil can take them away from us. We need to end every encounter with loved ones with a quick statement of our affection.

    Have a safe weekend, my friend!

    • “A great reminder of how precious our friends and family are, and how quickly unexpected evil can take them away from us.”

      I’m mindful of that every day and feel gratitude for good friends like you, Steve.

  4. Thank you, Debbie for sharing this story. Fictional murder and the real thing are indeed very different. Fictional murder can be ingenious, driven by all sorts of twisted motives, while the real thing is often raw evil committed against an innocent human being.

    I’m glad there’s a measure of justice here but, as you note, it certainly can’t replace Brian in the hearts of all of those fortunate to have known him.

  5. I remember when you posted that story in 2021, Debbie. It was a powerful reminder of our tenuous hold on life in this world, and the need to embrace every day in gratitude.

    I’m glad the trial is over now, and Matt’s family has some closure to this tragedy. Thank you for showing us that justice prevailed.

    • Kay, I remember at that same time, a community near you experienced similar violence. No place is immune.

      I’m sure it’s a great relief for Matt’s family.

  6. Thanks, Debbie. Glad you told “the rest of the story”. It’s a hole which will never be filled in this life.

    It makes me think of how many thousands of times this hole is punctured in families each and every day around the world.


  7. Thank you for the story. It is sad and repeated way too often. My pizza has brought me too close to too many violent crimes. Last week in Chicago a pizza driver was shot and killed for the pizza.

    True life crimes leave holes that take a long time, sometimes never, to fill. Shaw, enjoy your century behind bars.

    • Good question, Ben. When I started writing the followup, it evoked many strong feelings including the resurgence of anger that such a crime had happened.

      The guilty verdict is a victory but it can never be a complete one. That’s how life is.

  8. Heartbreaking story, Debbie. I hope the guilty verdict helps the family cope. Nothing can replace their son, but at least his killer won’t walk free.

    Small towns rally around losses like this. Several years ago, a mother and her boyfriend beat their toddler to death in their home that’s around the corner from mine. Stunned and saddened doesn’t even begin to describe how we all felt. When the mother cut a deal for her testimony, small town justice burnt the house to the ground.

  9. I’ve been a gym member with some breaks since the Eighties, and every gym I’ve belonged to has been filled with cops, many of whom would have been happy to help Matt and the gym. A pity that wasn’t the case that day.

  10. I follow the local news pretty closely and one thing that comes across loud and clear is how stupid most homicides really are, and how many people are packing heat these days.

    I’m sorry that this good man was taken before his time, but it is a dangerous world out there, even outside the big cities. Contrary to popular music these days, my experience as a prosecutor in a rural Iowa county confirms the view that crime in those places is done by locals to locals.

    I’m surprised the jury was out for four hours, maybe they wanted to get the pizza. Sounded like a one hour case to me. Kinda why I got out of doing defense work, making up excuses for peoples’ bad behavior.

    • Robert, thanks for your insider’s perspective. No place is truly safe and there are a lot of stupid people out there.

      It would be hard to keep making up excuses for bad behavior. Totally understandable why you got out. The noble crusade to save an accused person who’s innocent happens mostly in fiction and movies.

  11. Debbie has been hit with the “Denied for too many attempts” dragon, again. She said she would answer comments when she has killed the dragon. Unfortunately the dragon keeps growing a new head and a new life.

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