Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

September 11, 2013

House of Burgess: Matthew Cordle 'killed a man'

Ohioan's YouTube confession goes viral.

By Rob Burgess
Tribune columnist

— A wildly popular video confession, released last week on YouTube by nonprofit Because I Said I Would, had garnered more than 1.6 million views by Tuesday morning. The video clip’s description informs the viewer it was recorded Aug. 27 and released Sept. 3.

“I killed a man,” says a distorted male voice over a black screen as the video begins. Low theatrical music begins to swell as a pixelated head shot appears on screen.

“I was out with some friends. We were all drinking really heavily. … On that particular night, I made a mistake and got in my truck. [I] completely blacked out and decided to try to drive home. I ended up going the wrong way down the highway, directly into oncoming traffic, and I struck a car.” The screen flashes to black momentarily for dramatic effect.

“Immediately following that, I consulted some high-powered attorneys who told me stories about similar cases where the drivers got off,” says the disguised voice. “They were convinced that they could get my blood test thrown out, and all I would have to do for that was lie. Well, I won’t go down that path.”

The music and the shot abruptly changes. We can now see the 22-year-old man’s face and hear his voice clearly.

“My name is Matthew Cordle,” he says into the camera. “And on June 22, I hit and killed Vincent Canzani. This video will act as my confession. When I get charged, I will plead guilty and I will take full responsibility for everything I’ve done to Vincent and his family. If I took a different route maybe I would get a reduced sentence and maybe I would get off, but I won’t dishonor Vincent’s memory by lying about what happened.” The music swells further.

“By releasing this video I know exactly what it means: I’m handing the prosecution everything they need to put me away for a very long time. I’m willing to take that sentence for just one reason — and that reason is so I can pass this message on to you: I beg you … please don’t drink and drive.”

On the surface, at least, the messages conveyed are admirable: One, it’s good to tell the truth, even if it doesn’t happen right away. Two, it’s bad to drink and drive. Always. In the wake of the video’s release, though, members of Canzani’s family have had mixed reactions.

“I applaud Matt for stepping up to the plate,” Cheryl Olcott, who was married to Canzani for a decade, told Daniel Bates of The Daily Mail on Thursday. “He is an honest man who has spoken the truth.” Other relatives of the deceased 61-year-old Navy veteran have been less forgiving.

Angela Canzani, Vincent’s daughter, told Simon Moya-Smith of NBC News on Friday there was no question of Cordle’s guilt even before the video. “It’s making it look like he’s confessing to a crime,” she said. “Like he’s some hero or something.”

As expected, a Franklin County, Ohio grand jury indicted Cordle on one count of aggravated vehicular homicide Monday.

“[The video] was not made to obtain a more lenient sentence,” Cordle’s attorney, George Stark Breitmayer III, told ABC News Monday. “He did it for the sole purpose of raising awareness of drunk driving. I think that point has been made. He’s been contacted by addicts since its release, who are showing support to him.”

Cordle possesses no deficit in the chutzpah department, I’ll give him that. However, I share Angela Canzani’s skepticism. The video’s lighting, editing and soundtrack are all very striking. It’s technically well done; too well done, almost. One has to assume at least part of the motivation behind the video’s manufacture had to do with a hope for clemency.

I want to think the best of his intentions. But if he really wanted to prove his sincerity, he should have confessed privately and released this video after being sentenced. Given the timing, I find it self-serving.

Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at rob.burgess@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at twitter.com/robaburg.