Killer of Beloved Williamsburg Teacher Shows No Remorse as He’s Sent Away … for Just Six Months
He didn’t say a word.
Former FDNY EMT Tariq Witherspoon sat impassively behind a Covid mask as he was sentenced by a Brooklyn judge to six months in prison for killing beloved Williamsburg teacher Matthew Jensen in a hit-and-run crash in 2021 — declining the judge’s offer to address his victim’s family who had only minutes earlier vented their anger at the killer driver.
The sentence handed down by Judge Danny Chun had been pre-negotiated: six months on the top count of criminally negligent homicide stemming from the May 18, 2021 crash when Witherspoon, driving a Rolls-Royce, slammed into Jensen on deadly McGuinness Boulevard and then left him for dead on the roadway. Cops finally caught Witherspoon, who has a long history of road violence, in February 2022, and he pleaded guilty earlier this year. If he had gone to trial, he was facing four years on the felony, plus more on a felony charge of leaving the scene of a crash, as well as several misdemeanors.
Three members of Jensen’s family spoke before the sentencing, all evoking the love that the siblings and fellow teachers had for the larger-than-life instructor and former Peace Corps member. All three family members spat out pent-up bitterness at Witherspoon.
“I will never get over this. I will never forgive you,” said John Ogren, Jensen’s cousin who was with the victim minutes before his death, as he walked home from a party. “So many questions: How could you leave the scene? One of the most devastating moments in our lives was finding out what you did for a living. How could you abandon him there? I can’t help but think that there is no punishment that could make up for this.”
Referring to Witherspoon’s young daughter, who is less than 1 year old, he added, “Part of me thinks that the best thing that can happen for this person would be for you to spend the rest of your life in prison.”
Jensen’s older sister, Pamela, recalled being a second mother to her much younger brother.
“All these memories are too painful for me to think about because they are invariably accompanied by another image: that of a beloved man dying in agony in the road,” she said, looking at Witherspoon. “Mortally wounded by an act of utter depravity. That’s the image that comes to my mind every morning when I wake up [and] every evening when I go to sleep. … The schoolchildren of New York City lost one of the most creative, committed caring teachers they could ever hope to find. May God forgive you — I can’t.”
When Chun asked Witherspoon if he wanted to address his victim’s friends, family and co-workers, he said only, “No.” His lawyer, Joseph Corozzo, said only, “I’ve been representing Tariq for two years and he is sorry. He knows that Matthew Jensen was a very good man and comes from a very good family.” (Corozzo and several Witherspoon family members departed without speaking to the media.)
After Chun handed down the minimal sentence, family and friends were outraged at its brevity and at its recipient’s silence.
“Nothing can satisfy us, it’s all irrelevant now,” Pamela Jensen said.
Jensen’s self-described “Jewish mother,” Phyllis Roth said Witherspoon’s silence was “outrageous.”
“You have to at least say, ‘I’m sorry,'” she said. “I don’t understand that. … He’s an EMT, for chrissakes. How could we leave somebody dying in the street?” (Officially, Witherspoon resigned from the FDNY upon his guilty plea in February. He was with the agency since 2011 and made $59,000 in his last full year, 2021, according to city records.)
Paul Jensen, the victim’s brother, declined to focus on the killer.
“I care so little about this person,” he said of Witherspoon. “He means nothing to me. I don’t care if he talks. I don’t care if he doesn’t talk. His apology would be nothing to me, so I don’t even need that.”
After initial publication of this story, a spokesman for Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said the six-month sentence “honors the wishes” of the Jensen clan.
“Our Street Safety Bureau will continue to work with the families of vehicular violence victims to get them justice under the law,” said spokesman Oren Yaniv. “This disposition honors the wishes of Mr. Jensen’s relatives that the defendant accept responsibility for his criminal conduct and receive an appropriate period of incarceration. While no sentence can undo the harm of an innocent life cut short, we hope that this resolution brings Mr. Jensen’s loved ones some measure of closure for their tremendous loss.”
Just two months ago, Gonzalez successfully prosecuted the operator of a Sunset Park construction company who was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide, in this case in connection with a wall collapse that killed construction worker Luis Almonte Sanchez. For the guilty party, Jiaxi “Jimmy” Liu, Gonzalez is seeking eight to 16 years in prison on the same charge that earned only six months for Witherspoon.
But the legacy of Matthew Jensen’s life and Tariq Witherspoon’s heinous act live on. Largely because of Jensen’s killing, McGuinness Boulevard, where hundreds have been injured and at least four killed by drivers, is undergoing a redesign to eliminate one of its lanes in each direction and add a protected bike lane and other safety measures for pedestrians, a promise made by then-Mayor Bill de Blasio and continued by his successor.