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