Dot com entrepreneur helps clear death row inmate
A mentally-ill young black man on Death Row is set to become the only the second American juvenile offender ever to be exonerated - and he will owe his life in part to the intervention of an English dotcom entrepreneur reports the Observer.
Martha Lane Fox, co-founder of travel firm Lastminute.com, heard of the case of Ryan Matthews through her involvement with anti-death penalty campaign Reprieve.
She was so affected by the story of his conviction and the shoddy evidence that marred his trial, that she paid for his legal team to conduct DNA tests which have cleared Matthews of the crime and pointed the finger at the true killer.
Lawyers and supporters say the then-schoolboy Matthews was in the wrong-coloured car at the wrong time when he was arrested on a warm spring evening in Bridge City, Louisiana in 1997.
Out for a drive with a friend, the pair had the misfortune to be some 20 minutes from the scene of a botched robbery where shopkeeper Tommy Vanhoose had been shot dead.
Witnesses told police a short, masked gunman had escaped in a grey Oldsmobile Monte Carlo or Ford LTD driven by a second man. Six-foot-tall Matthews, then 17, and his friend were pulled over in their grey Pontiac some hours later.
"I was alarmed to discover that this apparently innocent young man was under sentence of death,' Lane Fox said."
"I knew that a relatively small amount of money could assist with the investigation that was required for his appeals - money that would not be provided by the state, and money that his family could not afford."
Two dubious identifications were the sum total of the evidence against Ryan who was convicted and sentenced to death.
Matthews, young, mentally retarded and innocent, has been a timely illustration of the arbitrariness of the death penalty.
Amnesty International points to the fact that only the US and Iran execute minors and 10 per cent of all 3,500 US Death Row prisoners are estimated to be mentally ill.
The DNA evidence demonstrating Matthews's innocence matches another man, Rondell Love, who was arrested and convicted of a killing several months after the death of Vanhoose and just half a mile from the Bridge City store.