When Ryan Matthews was cleared by DNA evidence and released from Angola’s death row in June, another inmate named Travis Hayes assumed that he, too, would be exonerated, says the New Orleans Times-Picayune. The clearing of Matthews in the 1997 killing of a grocer shattered the only firm evidence prosecutors had on Hayes, a statement to homicide detectives in which he vaguely implicated Matthews in the killing. Now, Hayes believed, the DNA could show what his attorneys tried to prove all along: that his confession was made up, coerced in six hours of interrogations in which he was denied food, sleep, or bathroom breaks.
Even though the DNA taken from inside a ski mask worn by the killer implicated another man with no connection to either of the original defendants, prosecutors are fighting to uphold Hayes’ second-degree murder conviction and keep him in jail for life. Prosecutors contend that Hayes has no procedural grounds to argue his innocence. A prosecutor’s court filing argues that an innocence claim must either come from a defendant facing death or it “must involve new, material, noncumulative and conclusive evidence which meets an extraordinarily high standard and which undermines the prosecution’s entire case. Defendant does not meet that standard.” Hayes’ defense team is dumbfounded. Hayes has been so deflated he can barely talk about the case.