Ryan Matthews was just 17 years old when he was arrested and tried for murder. Sentenced to death, Ryan spent five years on Louisiana’s notorious death row before DNA evidence uncovered by Reprieve led to his exoneration and release.

Ryan was tried and sentenced in 1999 for shooting convenience store owner Tommy Vanhoose. A ski mask worn by the perpetrator was left at the scene and DNA analysis showed that Ryan could not have been wearing it. Convicted anyway on identification evidence, Reprieve’s investigations led to finding the real murderer and Ryan was granted a new trial in April 2004. In August of that year, all charges against him were dropped and Ryan was released.

I had to hold his hand in the car to make sure it was real… I have no room for bitterness… All I want is Ryan to be free. What’s been done, you can’t undo.
Pauline Matthews, Ryan’s mother

Tommy Vanhoose was shot four times by a man in a ski mask who then ran out of the store, discarded the mask and jumped into a waiting car. Although there was no physical evidence linking Ryan to the scene of the crime, the jury convicted him of murder based on identification evidence, which is notoriously unreliable. The jury was kept up all night and not allowed to rest until finally they returned a verdict at 5am.

When another murder was committed nearby, a man named Rondell Love was arrested and pleaded guilty. He confessed to prison inmates about killing Vanhoose, prompting Reprieve to conduct further investigations. DNA testing on the ski mask confirmed that Rondell Love was wearing it at the time of the murder, and that he was in fact the killer and not Ryan Matthews. Ryan was cleared, having spent five years on death row.