Former state prison worker accused of murdering Aurora man July 4 pleads not guilty

Pictured: Scott Mathews. Photo provided by the Aurora Police Department.

AURORA | A former Colorado Department of Corrections officer accused of murdering an Aurora man following a dispute about fireworks July 4 pleaded not guilty to the crime in Arapahoe County District Court last week, according to the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. 

Scott Mathews Jr., 27, has been charged with second-degree murder for the shooting of Jaharie Wheeler, 36. He formally entered a not-guilty plea to the accusation at an arraignment hearing Oct. 18, according to Vikki Migoya, spokeswoman for the local DA’s office.

Witnesses told police the two men had gotten into a fight after Mathews head-butted and pointed a handgun at Wheeler’s girlfriend, Shamira Cotton, around 10:30 p.m. on July 4 in the courtyard of the Greensview apartment complex on East Alameda Avenue, according to court documents.

Mathews’ girlfriend, Katherine O’Neal, told police she and Mathews had gotten into a verbal argument with Cotton and Wheeler before the shooting because they were concerned their dogs would become anxious and frightened by fireworks being set off in the area. Cotton and Wheeler’s children, ages 9 and 14, were lighting fireworks in the courtyard after the family returned from attempting to watch the city’s Fourth of July Spectacular at the Aurora municipal center.

Video footage of the incident showed Wheeler pushing Mathews and punching him in the head, according to an arrest affidavit. The video then appeared to show Mathews drawing a semi-automatic handgun and shooting Wheeler once in the chest. 

Mathews worked for the state Department of Corrections for more than three years, but was fired shortly after the shooting in July, a spokeswoman confirmed. 

Mathews was initially held on a $100,000 bond, though his bond amount was lowered to $50,000 on July 22, according to Migoya with the DA’s office. Mathews posted bond one day later. 

He’s due to appear next in court for a motions hearing at 10 a.m. on Jan. 16, 2020.