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Friday, July 19, 2024

39-year-old man who was wrongly convicted and sentenced to death fights back, bags bachelors degree at Texas University

39-year-old, Ryan who was wrongly arrested and sentenced to death has fought against all odds to succeed in life. He bagged a bachelor’s degree in Applied arts and science at Texas Women’s University, Denton in the United States.

Ryan was 17 years old when he was arrested for capital murder in 1997 according to CNN. It happened that a white grocery store owner was shot and killed in an attempted robbery and witnesses identified Ryan as the suspect.

However, Ryan and a friend were driving in a nearby area in a car similar to the getaway vehicle that was used for the robbery. Throughout the trial, he maintained his innocence and there was no evidence linking him to the crime.

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But Ryan was still found guilty by 11 white jurors and 1 black juror and he was sentenced to death at the age of 19. After he had spent five years on death row, through the help of his family and activists who fought for his freedom and DNA evidence, Ryan was exonerated and released in 2004.

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“I didn’t know what was happening to me, I had nothing to do with this. But I just kind of knew this happens to innocent people,” he says. Ryan said growing up, he always had education in the back of his mind adding that his mother usually emphasised the importance.

“All these years ago when I first came home, a reporter asked me what I wanted to do, and I told them I wanted to go to school. When I came home, I was 24 and I had no job history. A lot of the requirements for the jobs I had were no work experience, no schooling,” he said. 

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At times, when I got on jobs, I was told I didn’t have the education requirements. That was another obstacle. So, I’m just trying to remove all the obstacles,” he added. Ryan stated that moving forward and starting a new life has not always been easy. 


He said shortly after being released from prison, his family was displaced because of Hurricane Katrina which made them move closer to Denton.

Ryan mentioned that his sister, Monique Lee-Coleman, earned her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at Texas Women’s University because of his situation. He said it was Monique who motivated him to enroll at the same university.

While Ryan was in school, he also held a night job as a machine operator. He managed to establish a sleep schedule that allowed him to attend classes during the day. His commitment eventually paid off, and in 2019, he successfully graduated with a bachelor’s degree in applied arts and sciences.

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Ryan stated that it was not easy but he remained motivated all through, Ryan’s wife Candacee Matthews said she watched her husband come back from 12-hour overnight shifts where he works, take their four children to school, and later sit down and study.

Ryan said it was what he needed to do as he owed it to himself and to everyone who helped get him out, including the attorneys who helped him get on his feet after he was exonerated.

“I don’t want to let the people that supported me down. I don’t want to let the lawyers down. I was blessed to get this opportunity and I don’t want to squander it,” he said.

Inspired by his story, Ryan’s 71-year-old mother, Pauline Matthews, is pursuing a degree in social work, and his sister, Monique is working toward her doctorate at Texas Women’s University.

“So I decided to go back and pursue my Ph.D. because hopefully, I’ll be able to do some legislative work and get some of that wrongful conviction and reintegration legislation changed,” Monique said.

Ryan plans to return to Texas Women’s University for a Master of Business Administration, stating that he thinks a graduate degree would make him more marketable.


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