Exonerated: January 17, 2007
Travis Hayes spent 10 years—from age 17 to age 26—in prison for a murder he did not commit.
Mr. Hayes 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.
They 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 statements, 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, evidence showed his car could not have been the getaway car and neither he nor Mr. Matthews matched the eyewitnesses’ description of the perpetrator, Travis was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole. Mr. Matthews, as the alleged gunman, was sentenced to death.
Years later, Jefferson Parish jail inmates reported that another inmate bragged about killing Mr. Vanhoose. Records showed that inmate matched the eyewitness’ description of the gunman, lived near Comeaux’s and was serving time for a murder committed less than half a mile from the store that same year. In 2003, Mr. Matthews’ attorneys obtained the inmate’s DNA profile. It matched the DNA profile found on the ski-mask.
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 exonerated in August 2004. However the State argued that—although the only evidence against Mr. Hayes was his “confession” of driving Mr. Matthews to the crime scene and Mr. Matthews had been exonerated and all the State’s evidence showed Mr. Hayes and Mr. Matthews were together all day—Mr. Hayes should stay in prison.
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 dropped all charges on January 17, 2007.