UTAH STATE PRISON — It was believed to be Utah County's first gang-related murder.
On Dec. 19, 1998, Edgardo Said Mata, 18, of Salem, who had been drinking and using cocaine that night, walked up behind Ramon Pena, 17, at Provo's Club Omni and shot him twice.
"I just looked away and shot him, sir,” Mata said in a recording of his parole hearing at the Utah State Prison on March 5.
When asked if he shot Pena in the back of the head, Mata replied, "I don’t even know. I just looked away and shot him."
On top of that, Mata said he really didn't even know Pena.
"There’s nothing that he could have done to me or said to me that would have been so egregious enough for me to act that way, sir,” he said. "In retrospect, that’s what baffles me is I wasn’t thinking. I don’t know what I was thinking."
In 2000, after months of delays and plea deal negotiations, Mata pleaded guilty in 4th District Court to murder, a first-degree felony. He was sentenced to 5-years-to-life in prison.
Earlier this month, Mata, now 38, had his first parole hearing. He said that while the people he was hanging out with back then were gang members, he never officially became one. He also admitted he "hardly ever knew" Pena. But after a fight in a church parking lot a few weeks prior to the murder, he brought a gun with him to Club Omni that night just in case.
"I knew that there would be a possibility that I would run into him,” Mata said. "I was intending to shoot him, sir."
Today, more than 20 years after the shooting, Mata said he is different person.
Mata was well spoken, polite and talked softly as he addressed Utah Board of Pardons and Parole member Clark Harms. He said when he was 17 he started "doing one stupid thing after another" from dropping out of school, giving up on a promising soccer career, and hanging out with the wrong people.
"What other people thought of me became more important than what I thought of myself. And at some point along the line, I lost perspective of things, lost my way," he said.
After he was incarcerated, Mata said he began educating himself and tried to better himself, which included reading a lot of books, something he didn't do before.
"I didn’t see the point in reading, it just wasn’t something that appealed to me at the time. But after being in here, a whole different world was opened to me that I just wasn’t aware of. And I learned a lot through books,” he said. "I didn’t want to be that same person, that same 18-year-old kid who took the life of my victim, Ramon."
There’s no repair. I wish there was a way I could repair that and bring back the life that I stole from him and the years that I took from his family.
–Edgardo Said Mata
Mata said his life actually got better when he was sent to prison, comparing it from going from the slums to the suburbs.
He has taken many life skills classes since being in prison and has been an instructor for other inmates. His disciplinary violations since being in prison include having inappropriate contact with staff members. Mata said he wrote poems and love letters to a prison staff member.
Harms commented on Mata's success in prison, noting, "It's clear you’re not the person you were 20 years ago.”
"The 18-year-old person that committed that senseless crime, I don’t even recognize that guy," Mata said, while adding, "There’s no repair. I wish there was a way I could repair that and bring back the life that I stole from him and the years that I took from his family."
Mata also knows that once he is released from prison that deportation is "imminent." He said his family came to the United States legally when he was 7, but he never became an official citizen. And because of his crime, he will deported once he is released from prison. Mata said he will likely live with his family on a farm in Honduras.
The full five-member board will now vote on whether to grant parole or set a date for a new hearing. Harms noted that Mata has already served more time than what is recommended in the state's current sentencing guidelines.