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Trial Begins for Inmate Accused of Killing Ex-Wife During Prison Furlough

April 2, 1990

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) _ A man accused of killing his ex-wife while he was on an eight-hour prison leave went on trial Monday in a case that forced the governor to overhaul the prison furlough program.

Jury selection began for Alan Lehman Matheney, 39, who was serving an eight-year sentence for assaulting his former wife, Lisa Marie Bianco, on the day he allegedly chased her from her home and clubbed her to death.

Although a gag order prevents comments by the prosecution and defense, Matheney’s lead attorney, Scott L. King, has suggested he will argue that his client was insane.

Prosecutors say Ms. Bianco, 29, fled her home in terror on March 4, 1989, pursued by a man with a .410-gauge shotgun to a neighbor’s closed front door.

There, her assailant clubbed her to the ground and, holding the shotgun barrel in both hands, he struck her at least 15 more times, shattering the wooden stock, authorities said. She died of a broken skull.

Ms. Bianco’s daughters, then ages 6 and 10, were at home when the attack occurred and may be called to testify.

Matheney surrendered to police later that afternoon, around the time his furlough from a central Indiana prison was to expire.

Ms. Bianco, who had served as a counselor to battered women, was mourned at her furneral by the women she had counseled. They said she had emerged from a broken and violent relationship with new courage and compassion - and still lost.

Gov. Evan Bayh, a Democrat mindful of national Republicans’ use of prison furloughs as a presidential political issue, immediately suspended the state’s furlough program and ordered an investigation.

Bayh, who urged the prosecution to seek the death penalty, later tightened restrictions in the Indiana prison furlough system to block the release of prisoners under similar circumstances.

Attorneys at Matheney’s 1987 sentencing described the marriage as an obsessive relationship of love and hate. Ms. Bianco yearned to be free of him.

″If only I could get him put away for a year, I could put my life back together again,″ she said at one point.

Only days before her death, though, she admitted to friends that, although she could never again live with Matheney, she still loved him.

Matheney allegedly made threatening telephone calls even from prison. She asked authorities to inform her upon his release, fearing his freedom would eventually cost her her life.

Matheney and Bianco divorced in 1985, ending their seven-year marriage but not their hostilities. In May 1987, Matheney was convicted of criminal confinement after he disappeared for six weeks with their daughters, Brooke and Nicole.

The judge accused Matheney of using the children, then 6 and 2, as pawns in an unsuccessful custody battle. He was sentenced to two years in prison.

Three months later, Matheney pleaded guilty to assaulting Ms. Bianco at his home. Rape and confinement charges were dropped in exchange for the guilty plea, but Matheney blamed her for the unexpectedly stiff eight-year sentence.

Guards at his minimum- to medium-security prison near Pendleton called Matheney a well-behaved inmate, but during the six weeks before Ms. Bianco’s death, he was refused a furlough six times.

Finally, on March 4, he was released into the custody of his mother, Martha Matheney, and told not to leave central Indiana. Ms. Bianco was not told of his release.

Despite the travel order, the Matheneys drove north to the home of a friend, authorities said. There, Matheney got the shotgun and headed for Ms. Bianco’s home to retrieve audiotapes he believed she had recorded of their phone conversations, authorities said.

Matheney said he couldn’t explain why he carried the shotgun and refused to answer when asked whether he had killed Ms. Bianco. He would only say that her death resulted from an argument that got out of hand.

The trial is expected to last at least two weeks.

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