|----- Original Message -----
Sent: Wednesday, October 13, 2004 1:33 AM
Subject: Travis Hayes
I have a request. This article was sent a few days
ago, and nothing seems to have happened much about it - and this man is
innocent. And he's in a worse position to a certain extent because
he doesn't have the DP. I emailed the reporter at the bottom of this
article, but one on its own is not going to make much impact, especially
coming from overseas. Did anyone else email as well, voicing their
concerns and support for Travis? If you haven't, and you have a spare
minute - can you please do this small thing? Maybe a few people taking
an interest -and especially from within the USA - might make the reporter
make a further article on this and show Travis that he's not been completely
forgotten. Have copied the email I sent - but I know there's a lot
of you on these groups who are a darn sight better with voicing yourself
than I am, and really think that we should at least be trying this for
him. Thank you if you do take the time out to do this - cannot imagine
how this poor man must be feeling right now.
'A FORGOTTEN MAN'----Prosecutors refuse to reconsider
inmate's case despite evidence supporting his claim
When Ryan Matthews was cleared by DNA evidence and released
from Angola's death row in June, word traveled quickly across the sprawling
prison farm to the ears of another inmate, a lifer named Travis Hayes.
Hayes allowed himself a big smile, a real smile, not
a fake one like those meant to appease a guard or ward off a fight or look
brave for his family. This time, for the first time in seven years, real
joy was behind it.
It was just a matter of time, he figured, before he would
be taking the same walk as his co-defendant, leaving behind the concrete
walls and swirls of razor wire and long days digging crop rows in the fields.
After all, the exoneration of Matthews in the April 1997 killing of a Bridge
City 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 thought, the DNA could show what his attorneys
tried to prove all along: that his confession was made up, coerced in 6
hours of interrogations in which he was denied food, sleep or bathroom
Transcripts of the interrogations show that for the 1st
5 hours of questioning, Hayes maintained that he and Matthews never set
Bridge City on the day Tommy Vanhoose was killed inside
his neighborhood store, Comeaux's Grocery.
But the Jefferson Parish district attorney's office snuffed
out whatever hope Hayes had that he would soon follow his co-defendant
to freedom. 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.
The district attorney's office declined to comment, saying
it does not comment on pending cases. But in court documents, prosecutors
contend that Hayes has no procedural grounds to argue his innocence.
"Defendant's sentence is not a death sentence," Chief
of Appeals Terry Boudreaux wrote in an Oct. 4 court filing opposing Hayes'
release. "Thus, to the extent that he seeks to bring a free-standing innocence
claim, the law does not authorize it."
Citing a state law and a recent Louisiana Supreme Court
decision, Boudreaux 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," he wrote.
Before any of Hayes' claims are considered in any form,
Boudreaux contends, a judge must consider all procedural objections raised
prosecutors. A hearing on those procedural issues is
set for Oct. 28.
Hayes' defense team, led by attorney Herbert Larson,
is dumbfounded. His mother and aunts and other family members feel like
they're trapped in a bizarre nightmare. And Hayes has been so deflated,
his defense team said, he can barely talk about the case.
In a recent letter to attorney Emily Maw, who is shepherding
the case for the nonprofit Innocence Project, Hayes wrote in imperfect
English, "Don't feel as though I don't have any feeling about the situation,
because I do. Its just my emotions and tears are no more. And words, there
just so hard to find. I hope that you understand. All I have is patient
A ski mask and a shirt
It was just after sunset April 5, 1997, when a masked
gunman burst into Comeaux's and demanded money from Vanhoose, whose nondescript
store in the shadow of the Huey P. Long Bridge was a popular fixture in
the scrappy blue-collar neighborhood. Vanhoose tried unsuccessfully to
talk to the gunman and was shot several times.
Witnesses said they saw the killer run from store, jump
through the passenger-side window of a waiting getaway car, then discard
a ski mask and a tattered shirt out the same window as the car was speeding
About four hours later, Hayes and Matthews, both 17 at
the time, were stopped about 10 miles away in Harvey. Hayes was driving
his sister's 1981 Grand Prix, which roughly matched the description of
the getaway car. But there was one glaring difference between the car driven
by Hayes and the car seen by witnesses: The passenger window in Hayes'
sister's car was broken and stuck in the up position.
It was a big hole in the case, but if detectives had
any doubts about the involvement of the teenagers, the doubts apparently
were overcome by Hayes' statement to detectives.
During the first few rounds of questioning, Hayes gave
an account of the evening that matched a separate statement by Matthews:
joyriding around the West Bank, visiting family and friends, driving his
brother-in-law to work. But during a final round of questioning at 5 a.m.,
Hayes reversed field and placed Matthews inside Comeaux's, saying he heard
gunshots and saw his friend running from the store. Even with that admission,
Hayes had a hard time providing details and seemed oblivious that a crime
At one point, he was asked by a detective, "When did
he tell you that he was in fact involved in (the shooting)?"
"He ain't never told nothing," Hayes responded.
"He never did?"
"I just found out."
"You found out through us talking to you?
Classic false confession
In Hayes' application for post-conviction relief, defense
attorneys attack the statement head-on, claiming that it is a classic example
of a false confession.
"That confession, frankly, isn't worth the paper it's
typed on," Larson said. "It's a statement at 5 a.m. by a terrified, mentally
teenager who wasn't allowed to talk to anyone or use
the bathroom. In his fourth statement he capitulates to statements from
the interrogating officers. . . . If they had kept on for another hour,
they could have had him confessing to the Kennedy assassination."
Steven Drizin, a law professor at Northwestern University
and nationally recognized expert on false confessions, studied Hayes' statements
and declared it "the most naked, uncorroborated false confession I've ever
"There are no facts or details of the crime or the crime
scene. Nothing. He doesn't know anything about the store. He doesn't even
know his way around Bridge City. It's stunning to me that someone could
be convicted on the basis of this statement," Drizin said.
The existence of false or coerced confessions has been
known for decades, but recent studies have put some numbers to the phenomenon.
Nationally known defense attorney Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence
Project, which is based in New York, found that false confessions were
made in 24 % of the 150 DNA exonerations studied by his group.
A classic example of the phenomenon is the 1989 Central
Park jogger case. In that case, 5 teenagers who confessed to beating and
raping a female jogger in New York's Central Park were exonerated after
DNA tests implicated another man who later confessed.
But it wasn't just Hayes' confession that doomed him,
defense attorneys believe. In Hayes' petition, Larson offers a host of
other issues that he contends led to the conviction of an innocent person.
-- His defense attorney at trial, Robert Pastor, was
ineffective. Pastor, in a 2003 affidavit, agreed: "My representation of
Travis was inadequate for a number of reasons. . . . I told the court when
my trial continuance motion was denied that I was being forced to try a
case of 2nd-degree murder from the hip, that I was ill and unprepared,
and that was what they forced me to do."
-- Prosecutors withheld evidence that could have cleared
Hayes. That evidence included witness statements, a supplementary police
report and the DNA evidence that excluded Ryan Matthews as the killer.
-- Prejudicial evidence was allowed into the trial in
violation of Hayes' constitutional rights. That evidence included a portion
statement in which he said he smoked marijuana on the
night of the killing and another portion in which he mentioned being "in
jail," a reference to a juvenile prison sentence Hayes served for cocaine
In its written response to the defense motion, prosecutors
confronted the objections one-by-one, shooting down each with the argument,
"This claim should be dismissed as it is procedurally barred."
Another man's DNA
For the most part, the technical arguments in the case
are lost on Hayes' loved ones. What is not lost is the fact that DNA evidence
cleared Ryan Matthews, discredited Hayes' so-called confession and implicated
After spending more than $35,000 on DNA tests, prosecutors
found that the only DNA on the ski mask left behind by the killer belonged
to Rondell Love, who has admitted that he has never met Hayes or Matthews.
Love is now serving 20 years in prison for manslaughter for slashing a
woman's throat in Bridge City, a crime that occurred eight months after
the Vanhoose killing.
To support its theory that Love is the real killer, the
defense team has referred to several witnesses who say Love bragged about
the crime. In the defense petition, Troy Abrons recalls a conversation
with Love: "He said the man (Vanhoose) said some 'smart-assed s- - -,'
so Rondell shot him. . .. . He said the man wouldn't give him any money."
Family members said it didn't take DNA evidence to convince
them of Hayes' innocence. Hayes, who stands just over 5 feet tall and weighs
about 110 pounds, had never so much as been in a fight, much less a serious
act of violence, they said. Hayes, a special education student and eighth-grade
dropout, was easy to lull into a false confession, they said, because he
was always a follower, always eager to please.
"He was always a real meek, well-mannered person. We knew
right away it was a ridiculous charge," said one of his aunts, Dolores
Another aunt, Doris Forte, said she knew Hayes was innocent
as soon as she heard about the car window contradiction and the "faded,
raggedy old shirt" that witnesses said the killer tossed from the window
along with the ski mask.
"Neither of those boys would have been caught dead in
a rag like that," she said. "They were always clean and pressed."
Hayes' mother, Juanita, is a woman of few words and,
like her son, a slow learner. She has a hard time following the details
of the case, but she knows this: Recent events have almost made it too
painful to visit her son in prison.
"When it's time to go, I just can't stand to leave him
like that," she said. "My son is innocent. Why can't they stand up and
tell people they were wrong? Somebody needs to fix this mistake."
Larson said his client isn't the only victim in the case.
The position of the district attorney's office has "revictimized" Vanhoose's
family, he said.
Vanhoose's relatives could not be reached for comment.
Last year, Vanhoose's son, Rocky, supported attempts by prosecutors to
keep Matthews on death row. But mostly he spoke about the emotional trauma
of seeing the case reopened.
"I can't even use my regular thought process because
I feel bombarded," Rocky Vanhoose was quoted saying during Matthews' appeal
The Jefferson Parish district attorney's office, Larson
said, can do a lot to help ease the pain of the Vanhoose family.
"We know who's responsible for this murder," Larson said.
"Why they're keeping an innocent man in prison instead of going after the
real killer is a travesty."
Even some of the jurors who convicted Hayes are concerned.
Five of them have signed sworn statements, submitted with Hayes' petition,
that the DNA test results would have made a difference at trial.
"I think a new jury should look at this new evidence,"
stated one of the jurors, George Lorio. "I don't want anyone to stay in
jail who is not guilty."
Another juror Lawrence Aucoin, stated, "I have been shown
the papers on the DNA evidence that there is now someone else who did the
crime. We should have been told about that. I can guarantee you the result
of the trial would have been different."
To Larson and the Innocence Project investigators, working
on the case as volunteers, the injustice is compounded by the fact Matthews
is a free man. In an ironic twist of the legal system, Matthews' conviction,
for first-degree murder, was easier to undo because he was on death row,
giving him more appeal avenues and more resources than someone sentenced
to life in prison.
"It is a sad state of affairs," said attorney William
Sothern, who represented Matthews for the Capital Appeals Project, "that
in order to
get exonerated, a man first needs to be sentenced to
"Travis is like a forgotten man," Maw said. "There almost
seems to be a feeling that somebody who is serving a life sentence has
gotten off easy, so what are they complaining about? Well, natural life
is not a light sentence. And for someone who is innocent, it's torture."
What the heck is happening to American Justice?
The USA USED to be the country that we all looked up to, all respected,
all aspired to. No more. Justice has become known as "Just
Us" in abolitionist and reform circles - referring to the Good Old Boys
Network that some of the prosecutors seem to work within.
This is not about Justice for Travis Hayes, and certainly
not for Tommy Vanhoose. This is about the prosecutors viewing the
conviction as some form of "Brownie point" and not proven wrong in
their actions. You can jazz it up under legal restrictions as much
as you like - that doesn't change the fact that when you DELIBERATELY withhold
evidence that can prove someone's innocence, and then hide behind the word
of the law to make sure that person stays convicted - you're an egotistical,
immoral sleazebag who doesnt deserve to have the privilege of serving the
law you're supposed to uphold.
What would be justice? At least considering Travis
Hayes situation, in relation to Ryan Matthews - that evidence in Ryan's
case is surely correlative? And then placing the conviction on Rondell
Love. In the long term - an innocent man who is not dangerous will
be held for life - while Rondell Love - the real killer and a dangerous
man who's laughing at the justice system and is going to come out of your
prison system arrogant and smug for beating this charge - will be back
on your streets. Please - let's have some common sense. The
law operates to protect and serve the people - and that includes possible
innocence such as Travis Hayes - and in this case it's going to fail dismally
if this is allowed to happen. Please at least reopen and consider
Travis Hayes situation in relation to the fact that Ryan Matthews is now
free, and proven innocent, and you have known knowledge of the real killer
BRAGGING about what he's done. Anything else is not justice, and
is a sad reflection on America, and the American Justice system.