On November 29, 2021, Judge Willard in Orleans Parish entered a post-conviction plea agreement vacating the conviction of Bryon Curtis Matthews for second-degree murder, and instead entered a plea to manslaughter. Matthews had served 26 years of a life without the possibility of parole sentence. He was subsequently released from custody after the judge’s ruling.
Matthews was one of approximately 1,500 people serving sentences based on convictions arising from non-unanimous jury verdicts. The team of attorneys representing Matthews including Bob Linton from Dykema, Mark Cawley of Farmers Insurance, and Colin Reingold and Hardell Ward from The Promise of Justice Initiative (PJI).
For more than 120 years, Louisiana maintained a Jim Crow practice that allowed people like Mr. Matthews to be convicted even though one or two jurors dissented. In every other state besides Oregon, these cases would have resulted in a mistrial. Non-unanimous juries are nicknamed “Jim Crow Juries” because of the role that they played in explicitly working to maintain White supremacy in Louisiana. More than 80 percent of people with Jim Crow Jury verdicts are Black, and the law effectively silenced the voices of thousands of Black jurors.
PJI’s Jim Crow Juries Project is an unprecedented litigation campaign to restore justice to the more than 1,500 Louisianans who are still in prison due to non-unanimous jury convictions in state criminal trials, which were declared unconstitutional under the Sixth Amendment by the U.S. Supreme Court on April 20, 2020, in Ramos v Louisiana. The landmark decision applies to future cases and is currently not being applied retroactively, leaving people already serving sentences due to non-unanimous verdicts—including life without the possibility of parole—to remain in prison. Through its work with the PJI, Dykema and its clients, such as Farmers Insurance, are helping to restore justice for those who remain imprisoned as a result.