Before Matthew Fischer stabbed a classmate to death, he sent his girlfriend a disturbing text message: “I’ll kill him eventually.”
The South Carolina high-schooler warned 17-year-old Lucas Cavanaugh, whom he considered a love rival, to stay away from his relationship. Prosecutors say their fight via text message one Sunday evening in 2015 led to murder.
On Wednesday, Fischer—who admitted to the fatal stabbing but claimed it was self-defense—was in court asking for his murder charge to be dropped under South Carolina’s “stand your ground” law.
But a Charleston County judge ruled the state’s Protection of Persons and Property Act doesn’t apply to his case. Fischer will head to trial for murder, and if convicted, he could spend 30 years to life in prison.
Fischer, who was 16 during the slaying and who turned 19 just days ago, testified that he acted in self-defense when he slashed Lucas Cavanaugh, the Charleston Post and Courier reported. Cavanaugh put him in a headlock, and he was losing his breath, he said.
“I didn’t mean to kill him,” testified Fischer, who is also charged with possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. “I just needed to get him off of me. He had me in a chokehold and I couldn’t breathe.”
The killing sent shockwaves through Wando High School, where the teens went to school, and the Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, community.
By some accounts, Fischer and Cavanaugh began arguing over Snapchat. In other reports, the high-schoolers were fighting via the iMessage app, with Fischer communicating on an iPod owned by Fischer’s girlfriend.
Fischer’s attorney, Andy Savage, told The Daily Beast that his client’s messages were simply “fantasy communications.” He said phone records show that Fischer and his ex-girlfriend engaged in a flurry of bizarre and disturbing texts.
“It wasn’t a one-way conversation,” Savage said on Wednesday night of Fischer’s alleged threats. “It was a two-way conversation.”
Savage described Fischer as a self-conscious introvert who, before the stabbing, had facial-reconstruction surgery to correct a deformity.
According to Savage, when Fischer talked tough to Cavanaugh, he did so because Cavanaugh was 12 miles away.
“Knowing he can’t fight his way out of a paper bag, [Fischer’s] trying to look like a tough guy in front of his girlfriend,” Savage told The Daily Beast.
Asked if Fischer committed a crime, Savage replied, “unequivocally, no.”
When officers arrived to the scene on Jan. 18, 2015, they found Cavanaugh in the middle of the road with a bloody pocket knife nearby. They also spotted the fallen teen’s eyeglasses, with one broken lens about a foot away.
The chief of police ordered first responders to hang tarps so bystanders wouldn’t see Cavanaugh’s body, ABC News 4 reported. And the lone 911 caller, the mother of Fischer’s girlfriend, described Cavanaugh as “disemboweled.”
When an officer later asked Fischer why he decided to fight Cavanaugh, the teen allegedly replied, “You don’t want to look like a baby.”
In court Wednesday, prosecutors said Fischer was so jealous of Cavanaugh’s friendship with his girlfriend that he sent her a disturbing text message days before the stabbing: “I’ll kill him eventually,” Fischer wrote.
“I know you don’t want me to hurt him, but he needs to go,” Fischer allegedly wrote, according to the Post and Courier.
For his part, Fischer said he wasn’t serious about the ominous message, and that he didn’t intend to kill Cavanaugh during the brawl.
Prosecutor Jennifer Shealy read a slew of Fischer’s texts to his girlfriend. The messages depicted Fischer as a possessive beau who talked of hurting—and even killing—anyone who threatened their relationship, the Post and Courier reported.
One message focused on a fake “family tragedy,” an event that Fischer claimed gave him a “murderous urge” and a thirst for “vengeance.” Shealy said Fischer told her that he made the elaborate story up.
Shealy questioned Fischer about the bogus account. “Is what you’re telling the court that you lie, lie, lie, lie?” she asked, according to the Post and Courier.
“About those particular things, yes,” Fischer replied.
Fischer’s former girlfriend, now identified through Wednesday’s testimony as Natalie Brown, also took the stand.
According to ABC News 4, Brown said that after Cavanaugh was stabbed, she lifted his shirt and watched his insides fall out into his hand.
The ex-girlfriend testified that Fischer escalated the fight by running up to Cavanaugh’s car and banging on the window. Fischer allegedly told her to tell police that it was Cavanaugh who went after him, she said, according to Live 5 News.
“I saw Matt reach into his back left pocket and that’s when I remembered the knife,” Brown testified, the Post and Courier reported.
“I screamed, ‘Stop, he has a knife.’ I saw his arm come to the front of his body and they backed up from each other,” she said.
Savage questioned Brown about how many times she met with prosecutors and if they coached her in “stand your ground” law, according to the Post and Courier. But Brown denied authorities influenced her testimony.
Savage told The Daily Beast that Brown’s testimony is at odds with her previous statements to police. “She has said repeatedly that Matthew was in a chokehold and it was only then that he took the knife out and stabbed Lucas,” Savage said.
“The statements were consistent until after she met with the prosecutor and changed her testimony. Three days ago, she remembered Matthew told her to lie to police [after the stabbing],” the lawyer added.
Savage claims Brown was playing the teens against each other, sending messages to both of them the night Cavanaugh was killed.
“I don’t believe she’s believable… and that’s a credibility issue that will later be determined by a jury,” Savage said.
Brown’s mother also witnessed the aftermath of the stabbing and dialed 911. She waited with Cavanaugh even after EMS arrived.
Robynn Davis told police she ran outside when she saw Fischer walk into her home clutching a bloody knife. She would find Cavanaugh’s lifeless body in the road and tried to comfort the teen in his final moments, the Post and Courier reported.
Davis described Cavanaugh as one of her daughter’s best friends whom she “loved and adored.” In her 911 call, Davis was heard telling Cavanaugh, “Stay with me, baby. Stay with me, darling.… Just hold on, please.”
She thought Fischer was still in her home when she told the dispatcher, “I’ve got to go get Matt out of my house,” the newspaper revealed.
Davis later told News 13 that her daughter was caught in the middle between Cavanaugh, her best friend, and Fischer, her boyfriend.
The deadly clash came after Cavanaugh sent texts to Brown.
“Could you stay out of our relationship and shut the [expletive] up,” Fischer allegedly wrote.
Cavanaugh replied, “She’s my best friend, you stupid, inconsiderate [expletive],” according to the Post and Courier. “I have no interest in taking your girlfriend.”
The argument continued until Fischer invited Cavanaugh to “come over” and warned, “I’ll kill you, man,” Fox Carolina reported.
Police say the altercation began after Cavanaugh drove to the girl’s home.
According to Fischer, Cavanaugh punched and kicked him before releasing him from a chokehold. That’s when Fischer allegedly pulled out a 3-inch knife, closed his eyes, and stabbed Cavanaugh twice in the torso.
Afterward, Fischer ran away and called his mother, who picked him up and returned him to the scene, authorities said.
“She got out, approached the scene and told them who she was,” Fischer’s attorney Peter Brown said just after the incident, ABC News 4 reported.
“And, they [police] said, ‘Well, we are looking for him.’ She said, ‘You don’t have to. He’s right there and he’s going to cooperate.’ And, he cooperated completely,” Peter Brown added.
Peter Brown said Fischer confessed to cops after they arrested him. “He gave a full written statement and it was audio and video recorded,” the attorney said.
In March 2015, local media reported that the high schoolers were texting on iPods through the iMessage app, instead of Snapchat.
Natalie Brown allegedly lied to police about the heated messages disappearing via Snapchat, according to News 13.
One iPod belonging to Brown went missing after the stabbing, News 13 reported, and cops told her it was a crucial piece of evidence in the case.
Brown then allegedly admitted to police that she hid the device—which she said contained nude photos and pictures of marijuana—under boxes and blankets.
On Wednesday, Brown confirmed these allegations, testifying that she was “scared that [she] was going to get in trouble” over nude photos of herself, as well as other pictures that showed drug use, the Post and Courier reported.
Fischer was released in March 2015 on a $100,000 bond and placed under house arrest. A judge ordered him to wear a GPS-tracking device and suggested he stop using the internet and delete his Facebook profile.
The prosecutor, Greg Voigt, said Fischer lured Cavanaugh to the residence and armed himself before his victim arrived. Voigt said Fischer stabbed Cavanagh, “essentially disemboweling him,” the Post and Courier reported.
Cavanaugh’s father had asked the judge not to release Fischer, whom he called a devil with “horns on his head,” the Post and Courier reported.
“He will always be the boogeyman,” Dave Cavanaugh said at the bail hearing. “If this monster had one percent of the empathy my boy had, he could never even envision stabbing and stabbing and stabbing until my boy’s insides were on the ground.
“I will always hate that monster,” the father added.