Blindsided By Injustice: Mistaken Identity Convicts Man to a 40-Year Sentence When Suppressed DNA Evidence Proved Innocence
by Jeffrey L. Boney
Special to the NNPA from the Houston Forward Times
Reginald Matthews, who has been out of jail since 2004, has been diligently researching the details surrounding his case and has recently discovered some shocking new evidence that he claims proves his innocence and should completely exonerate him.
Matthews spent 14 years and 3 months in jail for a crime he boldly and vehemently proclaims he never committed.
Arrest Gone Wrong
On the night of September 27, 1990, Matthews was on his way home from a friend’s house in southwest Houston, when he was stopped by a police officer. Matthews was immediately notified by police that he was being detained because a crime had just been committed in the area, less than 10 minutes prior, and that he fit the description of the suspect.
According to police, the perpetrator removed all of his clothing prior to breaking in the victim’s home and abruptly fled the scene once they became startled. Police were able to recover a major piece of evidence; the clothing that the perpetrator left behind outside of the victim’s home.
The police took Matthews back to the scene of the crime, where the victim was asked to come out and identify the perpetrator. The victim, who was in her early 20’s, came outside and upon seeing Matthews immediately told police that she did not recognize him as the perpetrator that had come inside her home.
Matthews was forced to wait in the back of the patrol car, when after 45 minutes, the victim’s 13-year old sister came out. She was asked to identify the perpetrator an hour later, just as the actual victim, her sister was asked to do; her response was not only different, it was life-altering.
The younger sister, who told police she had only seen one side of the perpetrator’s face for about 3 to 5 seconds, identified Matthews as the perpetrator who entered their home that evening.
From Bad to Worse
Matthews, who was a young, confident 20-year old Black male, never panicked about the situation and never truly considered the severity of the situation involving him, because he knew he was innocent and never backed away from professing his innocence. He had never been arrested for any crimes prior to this incident and in his mind, things would be squared away.
After being taken into custody, Matthews was videotaped as a part of a criminal lineup. It was that videotaped lineup and the subsequent events that occurred, that quickly helped Matthews come to the realization that things had escalated to a much more serious set of circumstances than he initially figured.
Within a week’s timeframe, the sex-crimes head at the time, Houston Police Sgt. Gregg Kuschel, had called in several women to come in and view the videotaped lineup that Matthews appeared in. Before you knew it, Matthews had been identified by several different sexual assault victims as the perpetrator in 4 new serious sexual assault charges.
Sgt. Kuschel proceeded to call in other sexual assault victims to view the videotaped lineup and when all was said and done Matthews had been identified as the perpetrator in a whopping 12 separate sexual assault crimes, with some of the crimes including sodomy and even murder.
Convicted Without DNA Evidence
Matthews continued to claim his innocence and demanded that DNA testing be done. Not only had Matthews never been arrested before or convicted of any other crimes, there was DNA evidence to prove that Matthews was the perpetrator in any case, including the one for which he was originally arrested.
While in jail, Matthews was subjected to DNA testing and while awaiting the results of the tests he was told that he would have to face a jury trial for the alleged crime he was originally arrested for – “Burglary with the Intent to Commit a Sexual Act.”
The initial DNA tests that were done came back inconclusive, which meant that they could not completely rule Matthews out. A second DNA test that was done had not come back yet and thus numerous recommendations were made by members of the justice system to delay sending Matthews to trial until the second set of DNA test results came back; those recommendations were ignored.
Based on the number of new cases that had been added to Matthews’ list of problems, the district attorney’s office tried to offer him a plea deal of 5 years in prison for the case he was arrested for, but he vehemently refused. The decision to refuse the plea deal split his family and caused a deep strain with his mother.
Matthews’ mother was told by the district attorney’s office that he would be facing a potential 99-year sentence, but if he took the plea deal he could avoid it. His mother tried to convince him to take the plea deal, but because he knew he was innocent, he refused to compromise his stance.
Matthews was issued a court-appointed attorney who he believes did not fight hard at all for him. There was no real evidence to convict Matthews, except for the testimony of the 13-year old sister who told police and testified under oath that she only saw the side of the perpetrator’s face for 3 to 5 seconds; they ignored the testimony of the actual victim who told police and testified under oath that Matthews wasn’t the perpetrator she saw in the home.
Matthews was found guilty by the jury and given a 40-year sentence in July 1991, by Judge Lupe Salinas in the 351st District Court in Harris County, Texas. He began serving his prison sentence and the DNA evidence still had not arrived.
Matthews had not gone to trial to face the other 12 charges that he had been accused of, primarily because they were awaiting the results of the DNA tests before they proceeded on those cases, unlike the original case that he was convicted for.
This is where the rest of the story raises some serious questions and red flags.
Red Flag Questions
Prior to the DNA evidence coming back, one of the sexual assault cases where Matthews was selected from the videotape lineup was dismissed because Matthews was found to have received a traffic ticket in Louisiana only 28 minutes prior to the crime being committed on the same day.
When the DNA results finally returned, six months after Matthews began his prison sentence, results showed that his DNA was not tied to any of the 12 sexual assault cases he was selected out of the videotaped lineup and indicted for. Matthews was eventually cleared of those crimes.
More importantly, the primary evidence at the scene of the crime Matthews was originally arrested and convicted for, reflects that the DNA on the clothes that were left at the scene of the crime did and do not contain any of Reginald Matthews’ DNA.
The most disturbing part is that the people responsible for getting the DNA testing done for Matthews, apparently never forwarded the information concerning his DNA results to the proper authorities to exonerate him and clear his name of the crime he was convicted of.
Matthews served more than 13 years more time in prison than he should have when the evidence came back and was never forwarded to the system to exonerate him.
During his prison sentence, Matthews consistently went before the parole board and refused to admit he was a rapist. He was eventually released from prison in 2004, but has been on parole. Matthews says that he cannot leave the state of Texas, can’t get gainful employment and has trouble finding adequate housing because he has to register as a sex offender, although no sexual act was committed for the crime he was convicted of.
When Matthews got out of jail, he demanded his files and has been gathering and reviewing this information since he received it. He eventually located and reached out to the judge who sentenced him to the 40-years and after reviewing the evidence and information, the judge has agreed to help him as much as he can. Judge Salinas, who is no longer practicing on the bench, referred Matthews to the Innocence Project of Texas, but Matthews believes that the evidence is too clear cut to wait and he wants to be exonerated.
“I want my life back. Haven’t I given you enough already?,” says Matthews. “I have given the state 14 years and 3 months of my life behind bars and another 9 years of prison on the outside because of this wrongful conviction. The evidence is on my side and they have the DNA evidence to exonerate me. Please do the right thing.!”
Matthews’ case mirrors that of many other individuals who have been charged and convicted of rape, like former top college football prospect Brian Banks or Charles Chatman, who became the 15th inmate from Dallas County, Texas to be freed by DNA testing since 2001.
Texas leads America in prisoners freed by DNA testing, releasing at least 30 wrongfully convicted inmates since 2001, and Dallas County has freed more inmates after DNA testing than any other county nationwide, according to the Innocence Project of Texas.
Chatman was 20-years old when he was picked from a lineup by a young sexual assault victim in her 20s, although he stated that he was working at the time of the assault and his sister supported that alibi because she was his employer. Despite the evidence, Chatman was convicted of aggravated sexual assault in 1981 and sentenced to 99 years in prison.
Banks pleaded no contest to one count of forcible rape, spent five years in prison and, upon his release, was forced to register as a sex offender and wear an electronic monitoring bracelet. He reached out to the California Innocence Project in San Diego, but was told there was nothing their attorneys could do without new evidence.
Matthews has new evidence that he hopes will get people behind his cause and generates the attention it deserves, not only for him but for others who are facing similar circumstances. His conviction and commitment to standing by his innocence has led him to seek immediate vindication, seek immediate justice and demand for the system to clear his name.
The Houston Forward Times (HFT) will continue following this story and will keep our readers updated as more details arise.