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Classification: Homicide?
Characteristics: Juvenile (17) - Justice miscarriage
Number of victims: 1 ?
Date of murder: April 7, 1997
Date of birth: 1980
Victim profile: Tommy Vanhoose (grocery store owner)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Bridge City, Louisiana, USA
Status: Sentenced to death in 1999. Released in June 2004, on bond, as he awaited a new trial. In August 2004, prosecutors asked the court to lift the bond and vacate the conviction

Juvenile Offender in Louisiana

August 9, 2004 - All charges dismissed. Matthews becomes the 115th death row inmate to be released.

Case Overview

Ryan Matthews, an African American, was 17 years of age at the time of his arrest for the April 7, 1997 murder of Bridge City grocer Tommy Vanhoose.

Facts of The Case

On April 7, 1997, a masked gunman shot Tommy Vanhoose to death in the grocery store he owned in Bridge City, near New Orleans, Louisiana. Witnesses saw a sole masked gunman walk into the store and demand money at gunpoint. Upon Mr. Vanhoose’s refusal, the gunman shot him several times.

According to witnesses he then ran out of the store and continued shooting before jumping through the open passenger side window of a waiting car. The gunman then discarded the ski mask as he drove away. A witness subsequently picked up the ski mask and handed it to the police.

The Trial

On May 6, 1999 Ryan Matthews was convicted of the murder of Mr. Vanhoose. The trial and subsequent conviction of Mr. Matthews have however raised questions and concerns of possible innocence, compounded by evidence of mental retardation.

Issues of race permeated the trial. In selecting the jurors the state secured a predominantly white jury with eleven white members and only one African American. Approximately one third of the population in the county in which the trial was conducted is from a minority. Clearly in comparison, the jury was unrepresentative of the racial makeup of the county.

Concerns have also been raised as to the pressure placed upon the jury to reach a verdict and the rushed manner in which the trial was conducted. The trial lasted only three days. On the second day the State presented evidence until 10pm at night. The defense then moved to rest, however the Judge denied the request, instead ordering the prosecution and defense to make their closing statement. The defense then moved to rest again, which similarly was denied: The jurors were then sent to deliberate. At 4.20 am the jury sent a note to the judge stating that they were unable to reach a verdict. The judge ordered them to continue. Just 40 minutes later at 5am the jury returned a verdict of guilty. The fairness of a verdict reached by a jury with no sleep after over 14 hours of listening to evidence and deliberating in a single day is clearly questionable.

Possible Innocence

No physical evidence connected Mr. Matthews to the crime. Indeed, conversely DNA tests on saliva and skin cells found on the ski mask excluded him and matched another convicted felon, Mr. Rondell Love. Mr. Love is currently serving twenty years for the manslaughter of Chandra Conley who was found with her throat slashed in 1997.

The DNA evidence is further corroborated by alleged jailhouse confessions from Mr. Love. James Harrison, an inmate at Jefferson Parish Correctional Centre came forward to Matthew’s attorneys to tell of Mr. Love’s confession to the murder of Mr. Vanhoose.

As stated above, eyewitnesses also saw the perpetrator leave the shop and jump through the passenger window of a waiting car. The police arrested Matthews later that evening in a car matching the description of the getaway car; however, the passenger side window could not be wound down and had been broken for as long as anyone could remember. Matthews’ car therefore could not have been the car used in the shooting

Possible Mental Retardation

IQ tests presented into evidence at trial demonstrate that Matthews had an IQ of 71, classifying him as borderline mentally retarded.

Mental retardation is a disability characterized by:

  • Significant limitations in intellectual functioning

  • Significant limitations in adaptive behavior as expressed in conceptual, social and practical adaptive skills

  • Origination before the age of 18

(American Association on Mental Retardation (AAMR) 2002 Definition)

The AAMR definition of mental retardation was referenced in the landmark US Supreme Court decision in Atkins v Virginia prohibiting the execution of offenders with mental retardation.

It should however, be noted that co-existence of all three elements is not necessary for a diagnosis of mental retardation.

Current Status

On April 15, 2004, Ryan Matthews was granted a new-trial after DNA evidence indicated that the prosecutors had convicted the wrong man. No date has been set for the new trial. His attorney and family are confident that he will be found innocent.

Executing Juvenile Offenders is Contrary to International Law

The execution of child offenders is in contravention of international law and fundamental standards of human rights. The ultimate goal of the international community is to abolish the death penalty under all circumstances, however, until that time there are restrictions on the categories of persons who can be executed, juveniles being one of the restricted categories. The prohibition of the execution of juveniles is referenced in a number of international treaties, declarations, and statements by international bodies, in addition to the laws of the majority of nations.

Juvenile Offenders: Issues of Mitigation

By their very nature, teenagers are less mature, and therefore less culpable than adults. Adolescence is a transitional period of life when cognitive abilities, emotions, judgment, impulse control, and identity are still developing. The IJP offers overviews on brain development and trauma as possible mitigation factors for juvenile offenders.


DNA leads to dropping of murder charge

The Associated Press

August 9 2004

A murder charge was dropped Monday against Ryan Matthews, a former death row inmate whose conviction in a 1997 murder was brought into question by DNA evidence.

Matthews, 24, was charged with 1st-degree murder in the 1997 shooting death of Bridge City grocer Tommy Vanhoose. Matthews was 17 at the time.

He was released on bond in June after prosecutors received results from DNA tests that showed no trace of Matthews on evidence recovered from the murder scene.

More than a year ago, Matthews' defense team found that DNA on a ski mask believed to be worn by Vanhoose's killer matches another man serving a prison sentence for manslaughter in an unrelated killing.

Matthews' conviction and death sentence were tossed out earlier this year and prosecutors were faced with a decision on whether to retry him.

The Jefferson Parish District Attorney's Office said it consented to a bond and home incarceration based on the DNA results. But prosecutors said they are considering to do more testing.

District Attorney Paul D. Connick Jr. said his office "would continue to investigate all the facts and evidence" of the case pending a new trial.


Ex-Death Row Inmate Home on Bond. He Awaits New Trial in 1997 Murder Case

Gwen Filosa - Times-Picayune

June 23, 2004

Once a convicted murderer on Louisiana's death row, a Gretna man is now living at his mother's home while he awaits a new trial on a capital murder charge.

Ryan Matthews, 24, was released Friday from the Jefferson Parish Prison on $105,000 bond by 24th Judicial District Court Judge Henry Sullivan during an impromptu hearing not listed on the court's docket.

Pauline Matthews used her life's savings to post $5,000 of her son's bond, while others pledged to cover the remaining $100,000 if Ryan fails to show up when called to court.

Matthews, however, may not leave his mother's home in Gretna and remains charged with first-degree murder in the 1997 shooting death of Bridge City grocer Tommy Vanhoose. Matthews was 17 at the time and had been locked up since his arrest until Friday.

It is unusual for anyone charged with first-degree murder, which can carry the death penalty upon conviction, to be allowed to make bond.

The extraordinary move occurred after prosecutors recently received results from DNA tests that showed no trace of Matthews on evidence recovered from the murder scene, his defense attorneys said Tuesday.

More than a year ago, Matthews' defense team found that DNA on a ski mask believed to be worn by Vanhoose's killer matches another man, convicted killer Rondell Love, not Matthews.

Based on that evidence, Matthews' conviction was vacated this year. A new trial was ordered, putting the case back to square one -- which includes giving Matthews back the presumption of innocence.

Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick's office did not oppose Matthews' request for bond, in yet another sign that the first-degree murder case is headed in a far different direction than it did when a jury unanimously convicted Matthews in 1999 and agreed on a death sentence.

First Assistant District Attorney Steve Wimberly would answer no questions on the case Tuesday but said the office will release a statement about Matthews today.

Matthews' attorneys, Clive Stafford Smith and Billy Sothern of the Louisiana Crisis Assistance Center in New Orleans, said they are hopeful that the next development in the case is a dismissal of the charges.

"Our only focus at this point is ending the whole thing so Ryan can move on with his life," Sothern said.

The case has drawn international attention because Matthews was 17 at the time of the killing -- making him a juvenile on death row -- and is mentally retarded, according to his lawyers.

When her son was incarcerated at the state prison at Angola, Pauline Matthews was unable to touch him physically because of prison rules. Inside their shotgun double home Tuesday, she sat closely behind her son, who wears an electronic monitor on his ankle that connects through the phone system to the local Police Department.

"I had to hold his hand in the car to make sure it was real," she said of the ride home from jail Friday evening.

Inside the modest home where Pauline Matthews lives with her two children and 14-month-old granddaughter, family and friends warmly welcomed Ryan Matthews home Friday.

Ryan Matthews, dressed in jeans, a gray T-shirt and bright white sneakers, was not allowed by his attorneys to talk to a reporter Tuesday. However, he did acknowledge that he was happy to be home. A wedge of chocolate cake from the family's Friday night welcome-home party sat under glass, and a handmade banner proclaiming "Praise God" remained on display.

"I have no room for bitterness," said Pauline Matthews, who will turn 56 this week. "All I want is Ryan to be free. What's been done, you can't undo."

Matthews' attorneys said that while house incarceration doesn't allow Matthews true freedom, it may help in alleviating his health concerns.

Because suffers from a seizure disorder, being home will ensure that he receives his medication on time, something they said couldn't be counted on in either prison or jail, his attorneys said.

Matthews was one of two people convicted in the Vanhoose murder. Travis Hayes remains in prison, serving life after being convicted at a separate trial. His case is on appeal.


La. Inmate on Death Row to Get New Trial----Prosecutors, who initially refused to follow the lead of a DNA test, reverse position.

Henry Weinstein - Los Angeles Times

April 15, 2004

A year after DNA tests indicated that Louisiana prosecutors had convicted the wrong man of a 1997 murder, officials agreed Wednesday to grant the man a new trial after 5 years on death row.

The DNA tests on evidence central to the murder case had shown no links to Ryan Matthews, 24, who has steadfastly maintained his innocence since he was arrested for the murder of Tommy Vanhoose, a grocer.

Instead, the tests on a ski mask worn by Vanhoose's assailant pointed to a different man, Rondell Love. He was already in prison, serving a 20-year sentence for killing a woman in the same area where Vanhoose died, across the Mississippi River from New Orleans, 8 months after the grocer was killed.

In addition to the DNA evidence implicating Love, three prisoners filed declarations in court last year saying that Love had bragged to them that he had murdered Vanhoose.

Until Wednesday, however, Jefferson Parish Dist. Atty. Paul D. Connick Jr. and his prosecutors had resisted granting a new trial for Matthews. Last month, Assistant Dist. Atty. David Wolfe said there were "absolutely no merits" to the defense contentions that the DNA showed Matthews was not the killer.

Connick reversed field on the eve of hearings called for today and Friday by District Judge Henry Sullivan to review the ethics of how Jefferson Parish prosecutors had handled Matthews' trial in 1999.

Among the issues to be considered were allegations that prosecutors had suppressed important information about one of their key witnesses during the trial.

The case has attracted attention because of the unusual situation of prosecutors refusing to follow the lead of a DNA test. Such tests are often the strongest evidence prosecutors use to obtain guilty verdicts, but they also have been used in a growing number of cases to free people who were wrongly convicted.

In a formal statement issued by his office Wednesday, Connick said he was acting "in the interest of justice" because the DNA test results on the ski mask "confirmed the presence of DNA of someone other" than Matthews. Connick's statement did not mention Love.

Billy Sothern of the Louisiana Crisis Assistance Center, one of Matthews' appellate lawyers, said Connick had "clearly made the right decision."

"We are very glad that Ryan is off death row, and we expect that he will be freed to come home very soon," he added.

Sothern and his co-counsel, Clive Stafford Smith, said that given the current state of the evidence, Matthews should be freed without a retrial. They said they would continue to push for Matthews' release.

"Hopefully they will come to the recognition that there is no case against Ryan. This is a classic case of a wrongful conviction," Smith said.

No physical evidence has been found to link Matthews, who had just turned 17 when he was arrested, to the Vanhoose murder. Vanhoose, the well-liked owner of Comeaux's Grocery, near the Avondale Shipyard on the west bank of the Mississippi River, was shot four times with a .38-caliber revolver during a bungled robbery attempt and bled to death.

Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project at New York's Cardozo Law School, who is working with Matthews' defense team, said the DNA tests made it clear that Matthews did not murder Vanhoose and strongly indicated that Love did. Love's DNA was found on the mouth area of the ski mask that the killer wore, according to tests performed by Bode Laboratories of Virginia.

"It's clear to me that the district attorney's office is coming to grips with the significance and implications of the DNA evidence, and they are bound to follow the leads," Scheck said.

Scheck and other lawyers working on Matthews' behalf say they believe the prosecutors have been reluctant to drop the case against Matthews, despite the DNA evidence, because of a confession they got from Matthews' friend Travis Hayes.

After 6 hours of interrogation by police, Hayes told investigators that he had driven with Matthews to Vanhoose's store, had watched his friend go in and, about 15 minutes later, heard shots and saw Matthews run out.

The 2 then drove away, and he never asked Matthews what had happened, Hayes said. Hayes was convicted of second-degree murder for his involvement in the killing. His statement conflicted in several ways with other witness testimony and was never used at Matthews' trial.

But for the prosecutors, "the confession is troubling," Scheck said.

Richard Ofshe, a UC Berkeley sociologist who is considered one of the country's leading experts on false confessions, reviewed Hayes' statements and other evidence for Hayes' appeal and filed a declaration saying there was "cause for serious doubt about the reliability of the confession."

In 23 of the 143 cases where DNA evidence has led to a post-conviction exoneration over the last 15 years, there was a false confession, according to the Innocence Project. Despite growing evidence that people really do confess falsely, Scheck said, it "is always harder for prosecutors to accept."

Prosecutors declined to comment.

Connick's decision to give Matthews a new trial came 11 months after the Louisiana Supreme Court responded to the DNA test results and other material presented by Matthews' appellate lawyers and ordered a special hearing.

In addition to the DNA evidence, the court also considered arguments about the 2 main witnesses against Matthews, a man and a woman who each claimed to have seen Vanhoose's killer.

The way authorities handled one of the witnesses raised questions about whether Matthews got a fair trial, the state Supreme Court said.

Matthews' mother, Pauline, and his sister Monique, who visit him frequently in prison, said they were disturbed that he had not been released, particularly because he periodically had seizures and did not always get the medicine he needed in prison.

"I can't believe it," Pauline said. "If DNA proves guilt, why can't it prove innocence. Is it so hard [for the prosecutors] to say, 'I made a mistake?' I wonder how they would feel if it was one of their children."


Convict's attorneys to argue for new trial ; DNA at murder scene presented year ago

Times Picayune - March 12, 2004

Gwen Filosa Staff writer

A year after defense attorneys for convicted murderer Ryan Matthews presented DNA evidence from the crime scene that matches another man, a Jefferson Parish judge has set an April hearing on the facts of the case. Matthews, who was convicted in 1999 of murdering Bridge City grocer Tommy Vanhoose during a robbery, appeared in court Thursday as his attorneys asked for his release on bail.

Prosecutors balked at the request, saying state law clearly says anyone convicted of a capital crime is not entitled to bail. The judge agreed, but said the waiting period for a hearing on the case will soon end.

"The court does not have the authority to hold a bail hearing at this time," said Judge Henry Sullivan, who sentenced Matthews to death in 1999. "What I'd like to do is move forward as quickly as possible."

The Louisiana Supreme Court last May ordered a hearing to be held in the 24th Judicial District Court in Jefferson Parish.

On April 16, defense attorneys for Matthews will argue for a new trial, promising to call DNA experts to the stand and offer witnesses who will say another man, a convict serving time for another Bridge City murder, killed Vanhoose.

At the 1999 trial in the 24th Judicial District, jurors relied on the word of two eyewitnesses to return a death penalty verdict against Matthews, who was 17 at the time of the killing. The jury heard that DNA recovered from the ski mask didn't match that of the teenager, but found Matthews guilty after two hours of deliberating.

In March 2003, defense attorneys from the Louisiana Crisis Assistance Center in New Orleans announced they had re-tested skin tissue found on the mask, which the shooter wore, and the results not only once again excluded Matthews but also pointed to another man.

In January, more tests were released by the defense, showing that DNA on gloves found at the scene also matched that other man, a convict named Rondell Love who is serving time for the manslaughter of a Bridge City woman. Love admitted slashing Chandra Conley's throat in 1998.

Love has told inmates that he killed the grocer, Matthews' attorneys said, citing sworn statements they have collected.

They say that District Attorney Paul Connick's office has no choice but to dismiss the charges, freeing Matthews, who remains on death row at the state prison at Angola.

"At this point, there is no realistic possibility that Ryan Matthews is guilty of this offense," said defense attorney Clive Stafford Smith, who added that Matthews is mentally retarded and suffers from a seizure disorder.

Assistant District Attorney Terry Boudreaux said the defense's argument is "compelling" but not relevant to the issue before the court Thursday. He would not take questions from reporters after the hearing.


New twist added to Jeff death row case -- Defense team wants prosecutor barred

Times Picayune

August 12, 2003

One of the Jefferson Parish prosecutors who helped send Ryan Matthews to death row after the 1996 murder of a Bridge City grocer must be removed from the case as it heads into hearings over newly discovered DNA evidence, defense attorneys argued Monday.

Assistant District Attorney David Wolfff can't represent the state, said attorney Clive Stafford Smith, because he will be a witness in an upcoming hearing, at which Matthews' attorneys say they will present evidence that was withheld at trial.

Prosecutors wouldn't concede.

"I'm choosing not to withdraw," Wolff told Judge Henry Sullivan at a court hearing Monday. The court scheduled a hearing on the matter for Aug. 28.

District Attorney Paul Connick's office would not comment on the request by defense attorneys, and said it will respond to the defense in court papers.

Matthews was 17 when arrested on a charge of shooting Tommy Vanhoose in Comeaux's Grocery during a robbery, and he was sentenced to die by lethal injection by a unanimous Jefferson Parish jury.

Without scientific evidence, prosecutors at trial based their case on a confession by the convicted getaway driver, Travis Hayes.

Matthews' case erupted in April, when defense attorneys announced they had found DNA on the ski mask that linked another man to the murder.

Skin cells matching Rondell Love, who purportedly bragged about killing Vanhoose while imprisoned for another Bridge City murder, were found on the mask, defense attorneys said.

The Louisiana Supreme Court in May ordered Sullivan to hold a hearing on the DNA, and also said the judge should consider holding a 2nd hearing on whether Matthews is legally mentally retarded.

Prosecutors agreed to a legal review of the ski mask DNA, but have said it's far too early to draw conclusions of Matthews' role in the murder based solely on the skin cells of Love, who is serving 20 years for slashing Chandra Conley to death in 1998.

On Monday, Matthews sat shackled and chained in court, as his much-anticipated court hearing quickly dissolved into a legal fight over Wolff's assignment. His mother and sister sat behind him in court.

"We can't trust the people who put Ryan on death row to let him go," Pauline Matthews said of her son's case outside the courthouse.

Matthews' defense attorneys suggested Monday that new evidence will surface at the upcoming hearings. "It remains to be seen what they (the prosecution) did and didn't know," attorney Billy Sothern said.


Trapped in the System

Editorial, Bob Herbert, New York Times

So what do you do if you've put the wrong man on death row, and you've got the evidence in hand to prove who really committed the murder?

One of the great problems of the American criminal justice system is that this is not an easy call. Once an innocent person is trapped in the system, it's extremely difficult to get him or her extricated.

On the evening of April 7, 1997, the proprietor of a convenience store in Bridge City, La., was shot to death by a holdup man wearing a ski mask. Witnesses said the gunman ran out of the store and dived through the passenger window of a getaway car. As the driver sped off, the gunman tossed the ski mask out the window.

2 years later a retarded teenager named Ryan Matthews was convicted of the murder and sentenced to death. He's now on death row in the state penitentiary in Angola.

8 months after the murder, and just a 1/2-mile from the convenience store, a man named Rondell Love slashed the throat of a woman named Chandra Conley, killing her. Mr. Love eventually pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. So he's also in Angola.

Mr. Matthews, who was 17 when the convenience store murder occurred, has always insisted he had nothing to do with the crime. Mr. Love, on the other hand, has reportedly bragged in prison about committing that murder.

You be the judge. Mr. Matthews was convicted and sentenced to death despite the fact that DNA tests showed conclusively that tissue samples taken from the killer's mask had not come from him. Attorneys handling Mr. Matthews's appeal arranged to have the DNA analysis of those samples compared with an analysis of Rondell Love's DNA. It was a perfect match. The human tissue taken from the mask worn by the killer in the convenience store had come from Mr. Love.

Attorney Billy Sothern of the Louisiana Crisis Assistance Center, which is representing Mr. Matthews, told me in an interview that the DNA analysis cleared up a troubling discrepancy that had existed from the very beginning. Eyewitnesses had said the gunman in the convenience store was not very tall, perhaps 5-5 or 5-6, and of medium build.

Sheree Falgout, who was standing at the register when the proprietor was gunned down, recalled telling the police that the assailant "was not a large person." Other witnesses concurred.

Ryan Matthews is 6 feet tall. Rondell Love is 5-7 and weighs less than 150 pounds.

What we have here is a major league miscarriage of justice. The question now is how to correct it.

Mr. Sothern and Ryan Matthews's mother, Pauline, have been on a campaign to have Mr. Matthews's death sentence lifted and his conviction overturned.

"This is the trifecta in terms of what's wrong with the death penalty," said Mr. Sothern. "Ryan was a juvenile at the time of the murder, he's retarded, and he's innocent."

The case is also a quintessential example of the hideous consequences that can result when a killer remains at large because the wrong person has been imprisoned. If Rondell Love had been arrested in a timely fashion for the convenience store murder, Chandra Conley's life would have been spared.

Even at this late date no one knows if the courts and prosecutors in Louisiana will ultimately do the right thing. The state's Supreme Court and the Jefferson County district attorney have agreed that another look at the case is warranted, and a hearing will be held Aug. 11.

"As this will be the first time that Ryan, our legal team, the judge and the district attorneys will be in the same room, it is very difficult for us to know what will happen in advance," said Mr. Sothern.

It's easy to say what should happen. Mr. Matthews's conviction should be thrown out as quickly as possible, and the case against Rondell Love should be vigorously pursued. But freeing someone who has been wrongfully convicted is a torturously slow and difficult process, with no guarantee at any time that it will end positively.

"For 2 years," said Pauline Matthews, "we lived each day with the threat that Ryan was going to die."

Mr. Sothern said his client, who had an I.Q. of 71, suffered additional cognitive impairment during his time on death row. Mr. Matthews is subject to seizures that must be controlled by medication. On 2 occasions, said Mr. Sothern, he was not given the required medication and the result has been long-term brain damage.


Ryan Matthews

Ryan Matthews spent five years on Louisiana's death row for a crime he did not commit. Seventeen years old at the time he was arrested, Matthews was sentenced to death for the shooting death of Tommy Vanhoose, a convenience store owner, in Bridge City, Louisiana. DNA testing results both exonerated Matthews and revealed the identity of the actual perpetrator.

In April 1997, a man wearing a ski mask entered Vanhoose's store and demanded money. When Vanhoose refused, the perpetrator shot him four times and fled, taking off his mask and diving into the passenger side window of an awaiting car.

Several eyewitnesses viewed the perpetrator's flight. One witness was in her car and watched the perpetrator run from the store, fire shots in her direction, and leap into a car. When she was later showed a photographic array, she tentatively identified Matthews as the assailant. By the time of trial, she was sure that Matthews was the gunman.

Two other witnesses, in the same car, watched as the perpetrator shed his mask, gloves, and shirt as he fled. The driver claimed to have seen the perpetrator's face in his rearview mirror while he was being shot at and trying to block the escape. This witness and his passenger were brought to a show-up hours later. The driver identified Matthews. His passenger was unable to make an identification.

Ryan Matthews and Travis Hayes, both seventeen at the time, were stopped several hours after the crime because the car they were riding in resembled the description of the getaway car. They were arrested and Hayes was then questioned for over six hours. In his initial statements to investigators, Hayes claimed that he and Matthews were not in the area when the crime occurred. Hayes eventually confessed that he was the driver of the getaway car. He stated that Matthews went into the store, shots went off, and Matthews ran out and got into the car. Both boys were described as borderline mentally retarded.

In 1999, based mainly on the identifications, Matthews was convicted of murder and was sentenced to die. Hayes was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to life.

Matthews had maintained his innocence since arrest. The defense presented evidence that forensic testing of the mask excluded both Matthews and Hayes. A defense expert also testified that the car that the two boys were driving - the reason they were stopped - could not have been the getaway car because the passenger side window that Matthews allegedly jumped through was inoperable and could not be rolled down. Other witnesses to the crime described the shooter as being much shorter than Matthews.

Continued defense investigation by William Sothern and Clive Stafford Smith of the Louisiana Crisis Assistance Center and DNA testing in another murder case proved to be the keys to proving Matthews' innocence. Another murder occurred shortly after Vanhoose's death in the same area. A local resident, Rondell Love, was arrested and pled guilty. Love bragged to other inmates that he also killed Vanhoose, prompting Matthews' attorneys to begin investigating Love. DNA test results from the second murder were compared to results from the Matthews conviction, indicating that Love had been wearing the mask that was left behind in the Vanhoose murder. Testing on the mask, gloves, and shirt had already excluded Matthews and Hayes, but these results became conclusive after Love's profile was included.

Over a year after this information was discovered, Matthews was granted a new trial. He was released in June 2004, on bond, as he awaited a new trial. In August 2004, prosecutors asked the court to lift the bond and vacate the conviction.

Matthews became the 14th death row inmate in the United States proven innocent by postconviction DNA testing.


Ryan Matthews on death row, with his lawyers.
(Picture copyright Off Center Productions.)


Ryan and his mother Pauline Matthews.



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