GREEN BAY, WI (WFRV) – For the first time the man who was shot while tubing on the Little Wolf River took Local 5 News back to the day of the crime.
When Local 5’s Michele McCormack first met Matthew Demeny in September of 2021, he showed her the large scar on his head. It was where doctors inserted a titanium plate to keep his skull intact.
Because the case was still going through the courts, he couldn’t say what happened to him until now.
In a recent interview, he said his back was turned to the shooter.
“When my fiancée yelled and I turned around, that’s when he did it,” Demeny recalled. “He pulled out a gun and shot me.”
The violence happened during a family tubing party in July of 2021.
It wasn’t until February of this year, that Demeny’s cousin’s partner, Cornelius Russell, pleaded no contest to Aggravated Battery with intent to cause great bodily harm.
Demeny acknowledges that he had to retrieve a beer can from the river that somebody else had let float around. But to this day, he has no idea why Russell targeted him.
“We were drinking and whatnot, but there was never any confrontation. Never any bad looks or yelling. I remember looking at him and saying ‘Why do you have a gun?’ and then I remember waking up in the water.”
Witnesses scattered that day. Some nurses who happened to be there helped his fiancee keep his skull together and help stabilize him along the shoreline.
Russell was given seven years under the deal that included dropping additional charges including having a handgun as an already convicted felon.
When offered the opportunity to address the court, he remained silent.
The lack of apology or explanation was especially disappointing for the victim.
“When somebody does something like that, that affects somebody else’s life there are certain answers that should be answered faster. Especially when he turned himself in while I was still lying in a coma in the hospital bed.”
Instead of answers, Russell’s defense said they would raise questions and reasonable doubt if the case ever went to trial.
“There was no firearm recovered,” noted Alex Gelhar who is Assistant State Public Defender. “No bullet or shell casing. And at a prior motion hearing the defense pointed out various items of evidence that were not preserved by law enforcement or the state.”
When asked if his client wanted to accept responsibility Gelhar said he would stick with his prepared statement.
Waupaca County District Attorney Kat Turner told Local 5’s Michele McCormack that the state would have presented its expert to testify that Demeny was shot.
But, as the Assistant D.A. explained in court, conflicts emerged between the hearing dates and the victim’s work schedule.
“If the victim told us I will not attend court dates, from the state’s perspective we don’t have a case,” said A.D.A. Ben Szilagy. “There’s not a triable matter.”
Demeny said repeated delays with the defendant’s first attorney took up all of his time off.
D.A. Turner also agreed that the first private attorney was incommunicative and delayed the case initially.
However, once the Public Defender took over, it took ten months to conclude.
Demeny added that he’s been under great financial pressure.
His injury left him unable to return to his house framing business. He makes far less at an automotive yard now.
Despite a $40 thousand victim’s assistance payment from the government, since he was uninsured he has more than $100,000 in outstanding medical bills.
“Just a lot of problems, ya know,” said Demeny his voice started to quiver and tears coming to his eyes. “Problems physically, mentally, and financially.”
Demeny said he taught himself how to walk and keep his balance again since there was no money for rehab.
A restitution hearing is scheduled for March where the court could make a ruling demanding the defendant compensate the victim.
Demeny says it’s not about the money, it’s letting people know what happened to him, that day along the river and then in the system.