Monique Matthews: The judicial system failed my family

Monique Matthews is the sister of Ryan Matthews, who was finally freed in 2004 after eight years behind bars -- five of them on death row -- for a murder he did not commit. From the moment of his arrest, Ryan's family fought to prove his innocence and win his freedom, traveling across the U.S. and other countries to spread their message.

Good afternoon. I stand before you today as Ryan's voice and America's conscience. I am here to reflect a very powerful message. I live in a town called Jefferson Parish, and it's in the state of Louisiana. It's also the parish where Ryan was prosecuted and convicted. The sheriff was able to issue a statement in 1990 at which time he said if his deputies were to see an African American male walking the streets of a predominately caucasian neighborhood, he would have him arrested. This is a state that almost elected former Grand Wizard of the KKK David Duke for Governor. A parish called David Duke Country is known for it's frequent legal lynchings, and I've seen racism. I ask that you sit and you listen as I paint a horrific picture of modern-day lynching of an African American male and a conspiracy to kill my brother.

In 1997, Ryan and his friend Travis were joyriding. They were pulled over, handcuffed, and placed in front of the police car, with its high beams on. A detective came to the scene with two so-called eyewitnesses. They identified the two teenagers. One fingered Ryan as the triggerman. After extensive interrogation, Travis, Ryan's codefendant, cracked. Mind you, these are 17-year olds; these are children.

The D.A. waited two years to prosecute Ryan. Their evidence included two eyewitnesses, one who has a criminal history, for, I believe, it was for biting her child. There was no physical evidence. Both cops, first on the scene and the arresting officer, were both later tried and convicted of being involved in a prostitution and drug ring. They were conveniently prosecuted after my brother was well tucked away in the state's system.

Oh, and the mysterious DNA which was found on the mask -- well, it was tested five or six times and it was determined that it belonged to a young man by the name of Rondell Love. He's presently serving 25 years for murdering Shandra Connelly. He slashed her throat about six months after he committed the grocery store murder. The bottom line, had they caught the right person the first time this young lady might still be among the living.

Ryan's trial reeked with the stench of racism. There were 11 whites and one Black on his jury. The trial lasted for only three miserable days. Before and even during Ryan's trial, his penalty-phase attorney approached myself, my mother, and Ryan and attempted to get him to cop a plea. Her words to my brother -- that ring in my ear so often -- "Well, you know, Ryan, life does beat death." My brother -- my role model and my strength -- sat straight faced and told her, "If life beats death, then you switch places with me and you do the time."

My brother was accused, convicted, and ultimately sentenced to die for a crime he did not commit. It's just ironic but it seems like this lady justice person -- this fictitious character who is always depicted blindfolded holding a sword and evenly balanced scales -- she seems to have ripped off her blindfold and used it to hang the innocent, minorities, and mentally ill. She has used her sword to slash the throats of the impoverished and somehow her scales tend to tip in favor of the rich and out-of-touch politicians. Justice? Oh, that's just a word. It's a word to describe the protocol by which one may be lynched. And the so-called justice seekers? These modern-day terrorists -- law enforcement, prosecutors and judges -- are just a bunch of liars and great actors. The judicial system has failed my family and many others by neglecting to do their job by upholding the law.

Justice has been denied for so long and has become nonexistent in America's courtrooms. But it is up to us as citizens to approach government officials and make it known that we are not going to tolerate this.

Every politician should re-examine the death penalty and it's flaws. And of course abolish it. They should take the time to find out what's going on with the little guy. Investigate some of these repulsive molestations of justice that illustrate just how screwed up our system really is. These people are predators. And you and I are behind enemy lines. It is important for people like us to serve on juries and keep our mouth shut about our political stand on the death penalty. We have to fight dirty. We need to go to some of these small communities and churches and educate those who have no idea about this new form of genocide sweeping the nation.

Our Country? It will never be at peace with any nation as long as we continue to murder the young, the innocent, and the poor. America will continue to be in crisis mode as long as we abuse our fellow bothers and sisters. If this isn't a good enough reason to overthrow your government, then I don't know what is. I think there should be an uprising right here on American soil. A revolution is what is needed to promote the freedom and dignity of our legally fallen brothers and sisters. This is an ongoing fight and I have committed myself to aiding in the relief of the young men and women Ryan has left behind. Justice has been lost and it is up to us as citizens to have them just reexamine this "flawless" system -- so of course it can be abolished.

My brother -- even though he's home now and we're all happy about that -- he is now tattooed. He is marked. He is scarred by something that society has inflicted upon him. There is no laser surgery or corrective procedure for this. Ryan has been robbed of his youth and his freedom.

But wait there's more. See, he just couldn't be released and move on. No, there were a few things he had to experience prior to being a free man. One that often comes to mind is the incident that occurred when he was released on house arrest, so that they can iron things out. He received a nice little transmitter that was placed on his ankle. After about six weeks of being home, two cops showed up at our house. They said that he was out of range for two minutes, three minutes, four minutes. They took him in to custody and said that he had to see the judge the next morning to discuss why he had been out of range. He slept in a cell that night. The next morning Ryan had to speak with the judge. The judge had the nerve to slap Ryan on the wrist, telling him how he was being charged with such a serious crime, and if it happens again he may have to go back to jail until August 9, which was the day of his hearing. My mother and I sat in that courtroom and listened to this man, this arrogant man, slap my brother on the wrist.

I said to myself, "This man has big kahunas, who does he think he is?" He should have slapped his prosecutors on the hand. He should have slapped those witnesses on the hand. He should have slapped all of the people who had any handling of Ryan's case in the horrible manner like that. I'm saying to myself, "My brother is innocent. Fool, don't you get it? He didn't do it. You have a lot of nerve"

Ryan's life will never be the same. He is being forced to merge successfully into a society that has betrayed him to begin with, a society that gave up on him. I'll just close with our most recent run-in with these intelligent people. Ryan's codefendant is currently serving life for this crime. He's still in the court system. There was an interview done by one of the local news stations. They were reflecting on Ryan's innocence and his release and trying to work on behalf of Travis. I said, "Oh, this is a really nice clip." Well, just when you start to think that things are going to be okay, you get slapped in the face really hard by these people. The last thing after they did the recap was, the D.A. responded to the comments. His statement was, "Ryan still remains still to be a suspect. And if the evidence proves that Ryan has done this he will be charged and convicted." It's an amazing world we live in. I urge loved ones to stick by your family members as they appear to be crucified before your very eyes. Love them unconditionally, support them, and most of all -- don't give up!