Phoenix Comicon 'Punisher' Gunman Sentenced to 25 Years

In 2017, comic book fan Mathew Sterling was arrested at Phoenix Comicon after a tipoff from a Facebook friend that he was going to try and shoot Power Rangers actor Jason David Frank, and any police who attempted to stop him. Cosplaying as The Punisher, he managed to get through security with an arsenal of weapons consisting of three loaded handguns, a loaded shotgun, a combat knife, pepper spray and throwing stars as well as wearing body armour

Charged with attempted first-degree murder, attempted aggravated assault, aggravated assault of an officer, resisting arrest, misconduct with body armour, and carrying a weapon into a prohibited place, last week in Maricopa County Superior Court, he was found "guilty except insane" and Judge Jennifer Ryan-Touhill sentenced Sterling to 25 years in the Arizona State Hospital.

Setting a reminder on his phone to "Kill JDF" on the day of his arrest, a woman of his acquaintance learned of his plans on Facebook and called the Phoenix Police, whose officers wrestled Sterling to the ground on the first floor of the convention centre. No one else was hurt.

After the arrest, Sterling told Phoenix police detectives that he considered himself to be a real-life version of Marvel Comics' The Punisher. Between then and now, Sterling had multiple evaluations of his mental health and a one-day bench trial in December, saw his evidence reviewed. Arizona law allows a person to be found "guilty except insane" if they are afflicted with a mental condition severe enough at the time of their crime that they aren't aware what they're doing is wrong.

He will undergo periodic evaluations by the Arizona Psychiatric Security Review Board and if at any point Sterling is determined to be mentally competent, he can serve the remainder of his 25-year sentence in prison. The first hearing will be in four or five months time.

After the reported arrest in 2017, comic conventions around the world stepped up their security, and changed a number of rules regarding the acceptability of cosplayers carrying weapons, fake or otherwise. Kristin Rowan, a spokesperson for Phoenix Comicon – now called Phoenix Fan Fusion, stated;

"We are pleased to hear that Mathew Sterling will receive the medical attention he needs at the state hospital. We are forever grateful to the Phoenix Police Department and the individual who first reported the incident for their quick thinking and actions that resulted in zero injuries and kept Phoenix Fan Fusion guests, fans, vendors, and staff safe. We are happy to be able to put this matter to rest and focus on the future of Phoenix Fan Fusion and bringing our fans the best pop culture entertainment events we can."

Phoenix Comicon Gunman Sentenced to 25 Years
Photo by Gage Skidmore

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Rich JohnstonAbout Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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