Travis Hayes spent 10 years—from age 17 to age 26—in prison for a murder he did not commit.
He was arrested while driving with his friend, Ryan Matthews, several hours after a masked gunman had shot and killed Tommy Vanhoose, owner of Comeaux's grocery store in Bridge City, during a botched robbery.
The two friends were arrested eight miles from Bridge City in a vehicle similar to a car witnesses at the crime scene described as the getaway car.
After eight hours of interrogation through which he and Mr. Matthews gave consistent accounts of their whereabouts that day, Mr. Hayes finally conceded to his interrogators' version of events: that he had driven Mr. Matthews to a store in Bridge City.
Although DNA on the ski-mask worn by the gunman and discarded at the scene did not match Mr. Hayes or Mr. Matthews and although evidence showed his car could not have been the car used in the getaway and although neither he nor Mr. Matthews matched the eyewitnesses’ description of the perpetrator, Mr. Hayes was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole. Mr. Matthews, as the alleged gunman, was sentenced to death.
Years later, inmates reported that while they were in the Jefferson Parish jail, they had heard another inmate bragging about killing Mr. Vanhoose.
Records showed that inmate matched the eyewitness’s description of the gunman, lived near Comeaux's Grocery and was serving time for a murder committed less than half a mile from Comeaux's that same year. In 2003, attorneys for Mr. Matthews obtained the inmates DNA profile from his court records. It exactly matched the DNA profile found on the ski-mask discarded at the scene of the crime.
After exhaustive DNA testing by the State on all the gunman’s clothing failed to show any link to Mr. Hayes or Mr. Matthews, Mr. Matthews was released from death row in August 2004 and the District Attorney’s Office agreed not to re-prosecute him. However the State argued that—although the only evidence against Mr. Hayes was a "confession" that he had driven Mr. Matthews to the crime scene, Mr. Matthews had been exonerated for not having been at the crime scene and all the State's evidence showed Mr. Hayes and Mr. Matthews were together all day—Mr. Hayes should stay in prison for being the driver of Mr. Matthews, who had been exonerated.
IPNO fought this absurd argument for nearly three years before a Jefferson Parish judge finally reversed Mr. Hayes' conviction on December 20, 2006, and he was able to be home for the holidays. Prosecutors had 30 days to appeal, but did not do so and dropped all charges on January 17, 2007.
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