The Crime: A masked man entered a Louisiana store and demanded money from the owner. When he refused, the man fatally shot the owner and fled the scene, firing shots outside and leaping into a getaway car. A witness said she watched the perpetrator shed his clothes, and claimed she saw his reflection in the rearview mirror of his car. She identified Ryan Matthews, who was stopped in his car by police hours later. Hayes, a friend, was with him. Both Matthews and Hayes, 17 at the time and described to be borderline mentally disabled, admitted they were involved with the murder. Matthews was sentenced to death, and Hayes, who said he drove the getaway car, was convicted of second-degree murder.
The Exoneration: DNA testing in another murder case proved to be the key to Matthews' and Hayes' freedom. Rondell Love, who committed a murder just days after the killing for which Matthews and Hayes were convicted, boasted in jail about committing both murders. And DNA on the mask from the first murder matched Love's and not Matthews' or Hayes'. Matthews was exonerated in June 2004, but it took lawyers at the Innocence Project more than two years to bring Hayes back to court. In December 2006, after Hayes served eight years in prison, he was released. "I always knew it would happen, so it wasn't a surprise to me," Matthews said at the time. "Never give up hope, no matter how bad it gets."
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