Glenn Gardner can finally put his weapon down.
The retired North Tonawanda cop was one of the detectives who put Richard W. Matt in prison for murder. He said has been on edge “every minute” since June 6, when Matt escaped from a high-security prison in Clinton County.
Gardner was one of a number of Western New Yorkers who were hugely relieved Friday to learn that Matt had been killed in a shoot-out with police.
“I’m not going to say what the weapon was, but I have been carrying my weapon every minute of every day since I found he escaped,” Gardner told The Buffalo News a couple of hours after Matt’s death was confirmed. “Ever since the escape, I’ve had my front porch lights on all night, every night, and police officers were watching my house ... It’s time for me and my girlfriend to have a glass of Pinot Grigio.”
Similar expressions of relief came from Gabe DiBernardo and Edward Schintzius, the two retired North Tonawanda detectives who worked closely with Gardner on the William Rickerson murder case that resulted in Matt’s prison sentence in 2008.
“My wife and I are ecstatic, and I’m very relieved for a lot of people who helped us with the case, including witnesses,” Schintzius said. “I was nervous. My wife was nervous, and I know a lot of other people who were terrified.”
Matt was shot and killed Friday far from Buffalo – 325 miles away, outside Malone, near the state’s northern border with Canada – but law enforcement officials were genuinely concerned that he would travel to Western New York to take vengeance on those who put him in prison.
“The State Police came to my house two days after the escape,” Gardner said. “They told me that one of the possibilities they were seriously considering is that Matt would come to Buffalo to seek revenge.” He said State Police told him to let them know if he saw or heard anything suspicious.
At least one local official of the criminal justice system was placed under 24-hour police guard because of the official’s past dealings with Matt and concerns about the individual’s safety, The News reported earlier this month.
“He’s made threats against people in law enforcement in the past,” said DiBernardo. “Glenn Gardner testified for 11 hours against Matt.”
A criminal like Matt, who kidnapped, tortured, robbed, murdered and then beheaded the 76-year-old Rickerson in December 1997, “could be capable of anything,” DiBernardo said Friday evening.
“Matt had these dark, evil-looking eyes and he stared at me my whole time on the witness stand,” Gardner recalled. “I don’t want to say that I am glad a human being was shot and killed by the police, but this man wasn’t really a human being, as far as I’m concerned.”
But no police officer ever knew Matt as well as David Bentley did. Bentley is a retired City of Tonawanda Police captain who met Matt when Matt was 13 years old and spent nearly two decades trying to turn him away from a life of crime. He even allowed Matt to live at his home for a short time when Matt was a young man seeking legitimate work.
After police killed Matt on Friday, Bentley said he had no regrets about befriending the young criminal and trying to turn his life around.
But Bentley said he, too, was relieved to learn Matt is gone.
“I’m relieved for me and my family and for anyone else out there that he might have hurt,” Bentley said. “My biggest fear was that he was going to rape or kill some poor, innocent woman. If there ever was a person who was evil, it was Richard – even as a little kid, he was dangerous and violent.”