Auburn man gets 65-year prison term for torturing autistic teen to death

Matt Christenson, who was convicted for abusing his ex-girlfriend's two sons and the second-degree murder of her 18-year-old, severely autistic son, Otto Smith, enters the courtroom, Monday, July 31, 2017, at the Maleng Regional Justice Center.(Genna Martin,

KENT, Wash. - An Auburn man convicted of torturing his girlfriend's autistic teen to death and abusing her younger son has been sentenced to 65 years in prison.

The sentence against Matthew L. Christenson, 45, was handed down Friday morning by Judge Chad Allred in King County Superior Court.

"There were moments in this trial that no one will likely forget," prosecutor Ben Santos said about the details in this case.

Christenson was convicted in August of both homicide by abuse and second-degree murder for the 2014 death of Otto Smith, an 18-year-old young man with autism who functioned at the level of a toddler. Smith's brother, J.C., who was 13 at the time, was also abused under Christenson's rule.

The standard sentencing range for the crimes is 30 to 41 years in prison, but King County prosecutors recommended an exceptional sentence of 65 years due to the shockingly horrific nature of Christenson's actions. Judge Allred agreed and imposed the exceptional sentence.

Christenson's attorneys said they plan to appeal the verdict and sentence.

Christenson met the boys' mother, special education teacher Pascia Backman, via Craigslist in January 2014. He and his 20-year-old son, who were living out of the son's car, moved into her apartment in unincorporated Auburn the night they met Backman.

Smith was dead within three months.

Backman, J.C. and Christenson's son Jordan Christenson testified at the trial that Christenson imposed his rule on the household within a week of moving in.

He forced the boys into hours of exercise, restricted their diets to starvation levels and forced them to take icy baths, according to the testimony.

Christenson also assaulted them, punching them repeatedly and even using a Taser on Smith at times. J.C. was forced to sleep on the bathroom floor with no heat, pillow or blanket.

He insisted to Backman that the boys were evil, Backman testified. He isolated her from her children, forbidding her to speak to them, touch them or look at them.

For her part, Backman was also assaulted, her diet controlled, and her drugs for anxiety and depression thrown away.

Smith was found dead in April 2014. Backman emerged from her bedroom in the middle of the night to find Smith duct taped from head to toe, covered in a sheet and upturned chaise lounge. Christenson stood by, drinking and smoking, Backman claimed.

Backman removed the duct tape from her son and pulled a sock from his mouth. She cleaned him up before calling 911. She and Christenson awoke J.C. so he could help them carry his body to the car and take him to St. Francis Hospital, where he was declared dead. Staff believe he had been dead for some time.

Backman and Christenson told medical staff and authorities he died in his sleep. However, Backman told various authorities different stories about how Smith died.

Medical examiners initially ruled Smith's death natural.

However, it was eight months later during an episode in which she tried to escape Christenson that Backman finally told authorities that Smith was killed. Christenson was arrested about a week later.

Christenson was found guilty of homicide by abuse, second-degree murder, three counts of second-degree assault, unlawful imprisonment and felony harassment.


Some information in this story is from KOMO media partner

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