Ryan Matthews should be free

Justice has waited too long

By: Liliana Segura

Ryan Matthews is an innocent man, and the evidence exists to prove it. But that didn't stop prosecutors in Louisiana from dragging out his suffering for as long as they possibly can. Ryan was still wrongfully behind bars at the beginning of June, following a June 3 court hearing that his family and supporters had hoped would be the final chapter of this story of injustice. But the court system failed Ryan again.

Prosecutors had already agreed to a new trial for Ryan on the charges that landed him on death row--the 1997 shooting of a store clerk in Bridge City, La.--because Ryan's lawyers have presented DNA test results that exonerate Ryan and implicate another man. But the state announced in court on June 3 that they want to test this same evidence that should win Ryan his freedom--for the fifth time. "With the delay today, we weren't surprised," said Pauline Matthews, Ryan's mother. "But for them to deny Ryan justice for so long...if it were their child, if Ryan was white, if we had money, he would have been freed by now."

Prosecutors now want DNA tests on skin cells and one eye lash that they say they found. Four previous tests have exonerated Ryan and matched Rondell Love, a convicted murderer. Ryan was arrested for the Bridge City store murder in 1997, and from day one, the case against him was racist and full of holes. But the DNA tests are the most compelling evidence in his favor. They also prove the innocence of Travis Hayes, who is serving a life sentence for supposedly acting as Ryan's accomplice.

The prosecutors' outrageous behavior in Ryan's case makes it crystal clear that, to the racist criminal justice system, justice for a young Black man isn't as important as the political standing of those who had the power to railroad him in the first place--for a crime he didn't commit. Apparently, southern justice means never having to say you're wrong.

Ryan's next hearing was set for late June. Until then, he must continue to sit behind bars. As Pauline Matthews told the Campaign, "There's something terribly wrong with the justice system. Four DNA tests came back, now they're saying they have to do another. They're breaking the law. Who's looking at them? They should be held accountable--the judge, the DAs--there's too much wrongdoing going on." We should send the judge--and the state of Louisiana--a message: Ryan Matthews must be freed. He and his family have waited long enough.