He was on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. Now, he’s a college graduate in Texas

Dawson White

One of Texas’ newest college graduates spent five years on death row for a murder he didn’t commit.

Ryan Matthews was 17 in 1997 when police pulled over him and his friend in Louisiana, according to a news release from Texas Women’s University. When the duo stopped, police told them they were being investigated for the murder of a local grocery store owner.

Witnesses told police they’d seen Matthews run from the grocery, jump into a getaway car and continue firing shots as the car drove off, the release says. The car witnesses described was a similar color to the one he and his friend were in, though Matthews says the body styles were different.

Matthews and his friend were ultimately arrested. His friend told police that he’d driven to the store and heard shots after Matthews went inside. Two years later, Matthews was convicted of murder and sentenced to death, the release said. He was 19.

“That was during an important time in my life,” Matthews told the Denton Record-Chronicle. “I was transitioning into adulthood. That crucial time was taken away from me.”

While in prison, Matthews read a number of books in the hope he would someday get to go to college, the newspaper reported. In 2004, DNA evidence helped exonerate him and he was released.

Two months later, he’d obtained his GED, KDFW reported.

“It felt like all of my work had finally paid off,” he told the outlet.

Now the 39-year-old father of four is a college graduate, according to the Denton record-Chronicle. He graduated from Texas Women’s University in Denton on Saturday, KDFW reported.

His bachelor’s degree is in applied arts and sciences, the university says, and Matthews is considering a career in financial planning and may return to school for his master’s degree.

No matter where life takes him, Matthews says he plans to make the most of his freedom.

“I always feel like I’m out here just trying to catch up,” he said in the news release. “I feel like I’m behind. So I’m trying to accomplish as many things as possible, and really just show that it’s not a mistake, me being out here.”