WASHINGTON - August 10 - Charges were dropped this week against a Louisiana man who spent nearly five years on death row for a crime he did not commit, making him the 115th former death row inmate in the United States to be freed due to actual innocence.
Ryan Matthews is the 7th former death row inmate in Louisiana to be cleared of murder. He is also the state's third African American juvenile proven to be wrongly convicted and sentenced to death.
"There are many reasons to oppose capital punishment," said David Elliot, communications director for the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. "One reason is that we are sending innocent people to death row to await execution. Another reason is that statistics increasingly are pointing to racial disparity, not just among those who are sentenced to death but also among those who are sentenced to death but are factually innocent of the crime for which they were convicted."
Of the 115 people who have been exonerated, 68 are believed to be people of color and 47 are believed to be white. Louisiana is tied for third in the number of exonorees, behind Florida and Illinois, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Matthews was convicted for the robbery and murder of grocer Tommy Vanhoose. Louisiana prosecutors this week dropped charges against Matthews after seven different DNA tests completed on the mask, shirt and glove worn by the gunman in Vanhoose's murder turned up negative. One test, of the mask, matched the DNA of another man who is in prison for an unrelated murder.
"The death penalty in America is not merely flawed; it is broken and beyond repair," Elliot said. "The fact that we are convicting and sentencing innocent people to death is chilling for three reasons. First, it is a life-wrecking experience for those who spent years on death row for a crime they did not commit. Second, it means we may well be executing innocent people. And third, it means crimes are going unsolved, which constitutes a continued threat to public safety."