Matthew Stirling, the Punisher cosplayer who armed himself to the teeth and went to 2017’s Phoenix Comicon to kill Mighty Morphin Power Rangers star Jason David Frank, has been sentenced. On January 24, Judge In a rare decision, he was given a verdict of “guilty except insane” by Judge Jennifer Ryan-Touhill, who sentenced Sterling to 25 years in the Arizona State Hospital.
He was charged with attempted first-degree murder, attempted aggravated assault, aggravated assault of an officer, resisting arrest, misconduct with body armor, and carrying a weapon into a prohibited place.
Sterling was arrested on May 25, 2017, at the Phoenix Convention Center after bringing a small arsenal consisting of three loaded handguns, a loaded shotgun, a combat knife, and other weapons into the venue during that year’s event. He was also wearing body armor and carrying pepper spray and throwing stars at the time of his arrest.
It was possibly one of the strangest stories to come out of fandom that year. A singer/songwriter named Rayko Dig reported a series of texts and photos sent to her by a fan named Matthew Sterling. Matthew’s plan was to come to Phoenix Comicon and hunt down kill Mighty Morphin Power Rangers star Jason David Frank, who was a special guest at the event that day. He had texted Rayko Dig that he was hoping to get in a shootout with the police, and had mentioned about 30 other names, both real and “Professionally Known As”, that Sterling was planning to target and potentially kill.
According to Maricopa Country Superior Court records, he set a reminder on his phone to “Kill JDF” on the day of his arrest.
Sterling also reportedly told Phoenix police detectives that he considered himself to be a real-life version of Marvel Comics vigilante The Punisher. At the time of his arrest, he was clad in black tactical pants, a red bandanna, black face paint, and a shotgun bandolier containing ammunition.
The verdict comes after two and a half years of court proceedings in the case, which involved multiple evaluations of Sterling’s mental health by both his defense counsel and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. A one-day bench trial, which doesn’t involve a jury, occurred in December, where Ryan-Touhill reviewed the evidence in the case.
According to Arizona state law, a person can be found “guilty except insane” if they are afflicted with a mental condition severe enough at the time of their crime that they aren’t aware what they’re doing is wrong. Ryan-Touhill ruled that if Sterling is determined to be mentally competent, he will serve the remainder of his sentence in state prison.
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