Ryan & Pauline Matthews
213 x 127 cm
Oil on canvas 2008
Ryan Matthews: Death Row Louisiana
Conviction: 1999, Charges Dismissed: 2004
Ryan was 17 years old when he was arrested for the murder of a local shopkeeper, Tommy Vanhoose.
Three eye-witnesses failed to identify Ryan. Although Ryan stands over 6 feet tall, the masked gunman was described as “not very tall”. However, Ryan was later identified by a witness who said he caught a glimpse of him in a rear view mirror as he left the scene.
The jury of 11 white and one black member heard evidence until 10 pm and were not permitted to go home overnight. The guilty verdict was given at 5 am.
After hearing prison gossip that Rondell Love, a man serving 20 years for manslaughter, had been bragging about the Vanhoose murder, Clive
Stafford Smith and the new Reprieve defence team had DNA tests done on the mask used in the shooting. It was a match for Love and conclusively ruled out Ryan.
In August 2004, 7 years after his arrest and after 5 years on death row, all charges were dropped. Ryan was the 115th person to be exonerated from death row. On his release, his family had to pay $100 to have an electronic tag removed from his ankle.
On an estate of new bungalows built to replace the shattered remnants of houses destroyed by hurricane Katrina, I once again met Ryan and his mother Pauline. Three years earlier at a Reprieve event in the House of Commons, Pauline had recounted Ryan’s story and set me on this long and eventful path to their door. Ryan’s towering dreadlocked presence belied his gentle, softly spoken manner. He spoke of his new baby and college studies and I sensed a confidence that had not been present in the silent newly–released prisoner I had met before. Pauline now looked older and wearier. Previously she was elated, rejoicing in the end of her long battle, but now the toll of living with her experience and the trauma of almost losing her son were etched on her face. But at the mention of Reprieve and their role in her son’s release her gratitude was overwhelming. A situation of complete and utter hopelessness had changed overnight as she placed all her faith in Clive’s confident reassurance that the son, that she knew to be innocent, would not die.
Part of the interview with Pauline & Ryan is available to listen to below but the quality may be poor so please click the button for the transcript.
“I had hope, hope was what kept me alive." - Pauline
"When these people came up in there it was like the heavens opened up, and everything changed. We wasn’t able to talk to Ryan - they were able to go up there and talk to Ryan. You know the whole scene in the courtroom changed." - Pauline describing the arrival of the Reprieve legal team