Lauren Hugelmaeir’s Light Lives On As Her Murderer Pleads Guilty

“The death of a beloved is an amputation.”  ― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed link

For those of you who do not know the story, a beautiful young woman was brutally murdered by her husband, Matthew Phelps. They had been married for less than a year. You can read a story I wrote here. Standing With the Family and Friends of Lauren Hugelmaier

As the year progressed, I learned many things. Today, I listened to the sentencing in its entirety. It is important to understand that Phelps’ defense was originally going to be that he overdosed on Coricidin and that is what contributed to his fatal stabbing of Lauren.

Trigger Warning: I will describe the autopsy findings in the next paragraph only.

By 4/2018, it was learned that Lauren was stabbed and slashed @123 times. Today, we learned that most of those stabbings centered around the upper part of her body and her head. Phelps underwent a battery of mental health examinations after his arrest. It was also determined, through his Instagram account, that he had a fascination with the movie, American Psycho.

a film about an investment banker who kills people indiscriminately, and he also posed as the main character in some of the posted photos.

Today, a bearded and long haired Matthew Phelps appeared before a judge in Raleigh. The following is what I learned from listening to the proceedings.

  • Phelps had a plea deal. In exchange for the removal of the death penalty, he agreed to a life sentence with no possibility of parole.
  • This plea deal was discussed with the family ahead of time and met with their approval. Phelps’ attorney thanked the family for allowing Phelps to live.
  • Apparently, Phelps’ former wife visited Lauren Hugelmaier to discuss her problems with Phelps. Besides having money problems from his unsuccessful business attempts, on one occasion he threw her on the bed, held down her arms and appeared to be in a rage. She divorced him after the incident.
  • Lauren was considering a divorce from Phelps because he overspent money on video games, drawing down their checking account to almost nothing. Lauren was the chief breadwinner.
  • Lauren discussed her marital concerns with family members.
  • Phelps had discussed his interest in learning to see what it felt like to kill someone on social media. This was in conjunction with his focus on American Psycho.
  • Phelps developed a friendship with a neighbor. He confided that he was depressed. Since she had also struggled with depression, she was moved to help him. However, one day he sent her a picture of someone removing eyeballs from a person. She began to worry about him.

Why did Phelps and his attorney(s) decide to go with a plea bargain when last year they appeared to be going with “the medicine made me do it” defense?

Important information came out during the hearing. Apparently the blood level of Coricidin in his blood was so low that it would not have caused dizziness or hallucinations. That was the straw that broke the defense’s back.

If you refer to my assessment in last year’s post, I predicted that the defense attorney was going to make this trial into a three ring circus. I had visions of the Bayer Company being dragged into court, ending with a verdict of *not guilty* as the defense began a huge civil action against the company. All hopes for this possibility were dashed with the toxicology report.

Now, the very real threat of the death penalty hit home for Phelps.

The incredibly kind, brave and extraordinary actions of Lauren’s family.

The victim’s impact statements by Lauren’s family were hard to hear. I went through a box of Kleenex while listening. I spent time praying for them as they bravely spoke of their love for this beautiful women. Mad respect and admiration…

During this time, it was disclosed how much the family worried about Phelps as things began to deteriorate. They loved him even as the difficulties in the marriage became evident. None of them ever suspected the serious deterioration of Phelps’ mental state.

The defense attorney helped everyone to understand the depth of kindness in this family. He thanked the family for their willingness to let Phelps live. It appears that the DA sought the family’s approval for taking the death penalty off the table. How hard this must have been for them! Their decision was a powerful testimony to their deeply held faith.

The defense attorney’s apology

If you read my initial post, you will find that I felt that he referred to Lauren in a dismissive way.

Although we believe that everyone is entitled to the best defense possible, we also know that the tactics which could be employed by the defense could be hurtful to Lauren’s family and friends. For example, have you noticed the distancing employed with calling Lauren *a young lady?” She has a name and she was more than just a young lady in Phelps’ life.

“Matthew’s family and all of us at my firm really send our deep condolences to the family of the young lady.”

Apparently, others noticed his cavalier attitude when referring to Lauren. Today, he turned to the family and apologized. It was surprising, yet necessary.

Phelps also made a statement.

Phelps appeared subdued and even a bit confused. His attorney mentioned that his client was put on medication to help him deal with depression and anxiety. I’ll keep this short. He did not beg for forgiveness. He mentioned something about being a monster but did not seem emotional. Drugged, perhaps or maybe just emotionally empty?

Fifty members of Hope Lutheran Church accompanied the family to the sentencing hearing.

The judge commented that he had never seen so many supporters of a family in a sentencing hearing. Many of them were wearing T-shirts with the words “Lauren’s Light.” It was thoroughly moving. Those folks were a witness to me as well an many others. So many times we have to report when churches do not support victims.

In the end, I believe justice was achieved, as far as it can be in this life. It does not bring back Lauren but it honors her precious life.

Lauren’s life matters. She is not forgotten. At least once a month, my husband and I visit her spot in the columbarium. We touch her name and pray for her family. However, we do not have to pray for Lauren. Lauren is flashing her beautiful smile as Jesus smiles right back at her.

In my last post, I mentioned Lauren’s favorite song, Legacy.

Listen to this song “Legacy”, which was played during Lauren’s funeral because it was her favorite song.

To Lauren’s family: she did leave a legacy, and many people now know about this outstanding young woman who loved God, kids, and her family and always had a smile that lit up any room she entered. She will be terribly missed!



Lauren Hugelmaeir’s Light Lives On As Her Murderer Pleads Guilty — 16 Comments

  1. It’s good to see the sentence of life without parole. It means the family will not have to go through a trial and Phelps never gets out of prison alive. Justice was done.

  2. Dee, I am sorry this terrible story is part of your experience, but appreciate your empathy, thoroughness, and sensitivity.
    Her family, friends and church compatriots have my condolences and prayers that they experience a sweet healing.

  3. Todd Wilhelm,

    I found out about it too late. However, I as able to watch a live streaming of the proceedings. It was well down as the person in charge of the camera was able to get closeups of the various statements.

  4. ““The death of a beloved is an amputation.” ― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed””

    I had a long diatribe but this is not the place for it. This quote made me weep inside, I don’t weep outside because well people of faith do not do that. Period. I am glad the family was given some sense of justice, it does not make the pain go away.

  5. This is surely one of the most tragic cases I’ve ever heard…thank you for your involvement and for honoring Lauren.. I will be lifting up her family in my prayer time

  6. My heart goes out to her family and friends who miss her so much. Why, oh Lord?
    I hope this is ok to ask…this post states the ex wife visited Lauren and told her the things that led up to the divorce. Was that while Lauren and he were married? I couldn’t tell with her maiden name now being used. At any rate…how I hope for protection and freedom of all women in these situations.

  7. By 4/2018, it was learned that Lauren was stabbed and slashed @123 times. Today, we learned that most of those stabbings centered around the upper part of her body and her head.

    To me that many knife wounds indicates an incredible level of rage, like killing wasn’t enough, he had to “hack her to pieces”. (And the account from the ex also mentions “rage”.) The location (upper body & head) also seems like it would be significant, but I’m not sure what it indicates. (Destroy her appearance and identity as well? Again, that sounds like an incredible level of rage and/or hatred.)

    And the Coricidin Defense struck me as just an update of The Twinkie Defense.
    Like weed, Coricidin don’t make you do that; even alcohol will just bring to the surface and exaggerate what’s already there.

  8. Lauren was considering a divorce from Phelps because he overspent money on video games, drawing down their checking account to almost nothing. Lauren was the chief breadwinner.

    Now THAT sounds like the behavior of an addict.

    And one of the most dangerous places to be is standing between an addict and his next fix.

  9. Such a sad story. I’m glad you were able to attend, Dee. And it was also wonderful to hear that the family had so much support from their church family. That’s how it should be.

  10. brian,

    It’s ok for us, as believers, to show our grief and sorrow, Brian. The Lord Himself wept. We show our compassion and support when we cry with those who are hurt. There is a lot of hurt affecting those in this story.

  11. Tragic story – had not heard of this before. Glad to see some positive response by the Defense

  12. In most areas the DA is an elected official. Since the defense agreed to the next most severe sentence (life without parole), the DA was able to convince the family that he’ll never hurt anyone in society again and that by taking the deal they won’t have to testify in a sentencing hearing.

    The defense attorney did what he had to do early on, but when faced with overwhelming evidence was able to successfully convince his client that either take this or run the risk of getting the death penalty.

    My SO almost got empaneled on a capital murder case in Texas, but when the defendant saw the jury about to be chosen, wisely took the plea deal offered.