Denton, TX — Ryan Matthews from Texas was just 17-years old when he was accused of a crime he didn’t commit. He later spent 5 years on death row, but was later exonerated and released. Now at 39-years old, he is celebrating being a college graduate.
In April 1997, Matthews was believed to be the culprit in fatally shooting a 43-year old businessman, who is white.
Throughout the trial, he maintained his innocence and there was really no evidence linking him to the crime. But he was still found guilty by 11 white jurors and 1 black juror. He was sentenced to death at the age of 19.
Activists and his family fought for his freedom. DNA evidence eventually proved his innocence and the real killer finally confessed. After 5 years on death row, he was exonerated and released in 2004.
“All these years ago when I first came home, a reporter asked me what I wanted to do, and I told them I wanted to go to school,” Matthews told WFAA.
And he did just that. He enrolled at TWU in Denton, Texas where he has recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in applied arts and science.
Inspired by his story, his sister and 71-year old mother followed suit and also continued studying.
“So I decided to go back and pursue my Ph.D. because hopefully, I’ll be able to do some legislative work and get some of that wrongful conviction and reintegration legislation changed,” said Monique Coleman, Matthews’ sister.
Pauline Matthews, their mother, is proud of what they’ve accomplished.
Moreover, Ryan plans to pursue graduate school to focus on business. But he admitted he still feels bitter about his past sometimes.
“I am because of what happened, but I can’t because it would stop me from moving forward… I’m trying to be the best I can be,” he said.