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Lawyers Ask for Release of British Editor Convicted in Dubai

FILE - General view of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, July 17, 2019.

A British former newspaper editor in Dubai who was convicted of killing his wife with a hammer may see his 15-year sentence significantly reduced and possibly even be freed from prison altogether in a case that has stirred much controversy in this city-state emirate.

A hearing in the case of Francis Matthew, sentenced for bludgeoning his wife Jane to death at their home in 2017, was adjourned Wednesday after he did not appear in court. No reason for his absence was given.

Matthew's lawyer, Ali al-Shamsi, declined to comment. The next court date was set for Oct. 23. A judge in December ordered a retrial for the 63-year-old Matthew after his lawyers appealed the conviction.

According to UAE law, a sentence can be reduced if a victim's next of kin waive their right to press charges, but to no less than seven years for premeditated murder as is Matthew's case.

However, a judge can reduce the sentence even further for various reasons, including a suspect's age. Matthew and Jane's only son previously dropped the charges against him and Jane's only other next-of-kin, her father, has since died.

The charges against Matthew have been a point of contention between the defense and the prosecution. A premeditated murder charge can carry the death penalty and has a minimum sentence of 10 years, while a manslaughter charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.

Matthew, whose lawyers had unsuccessfully argued temporary insanity, was first sentenced to 10 years last year for manslaughter, which was appealed. Charges against him were then changed to premeditated murder in the Court of Appeal and his sentence was increased to 15 years. Then the emirate's top review court, Dubai's Court of Cassation, overturned the 15-year sentence and ordered a retrial.

Matthew and Jane, his wife of 30 years, were prominent members of the UAE's large British expatriate community.

Police account

Dubai police say they were called to the Matthews' three-bedroom villa in Dubai's Jumeirah neighborhood on July 4, 2017, where they found Jane dead. Matthew told the police that robbers had broken into the home and killed her.

During a later interrogation, however, police say Matthew told them his wife had grown angry with him because they were in debt and needed to move, and that he got angry when she called him a "loser" and told him "you should provide financially."

Matthew told police his wife pushed him during the argument. He then got a hammer, followed her into the bedroom and struck her twice in the head, killing her, according to a police report. The next morning, Matthew tried to make it look like the house had been robbed and later went to work like nothing had happened, throwing the hammer in a nearby trash can, police said.

The Gulf News previously has said Matthew served as its editor from 1995-2005 and then became an editor-at-large at the newspaper. He was still with the newspaper at the time of the killing, though the Gulf News now refers to him as a former employee.