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New Orleans Mother Appeals to the Pope to Help Prevent the Execution of Her Son: The Murder Was Committed When Ryan Matthews Was Barely 17 Years Old

February 28, 2003

A delegation of families concerned with the harsh treatment of children in the criminal justice system is in Rome today for an audience with Pope John Paul II.

The son of Pauline Matthews, Ryan Matthews, is on death row for a murder that occurred one week past Matthews’ seventeenth birthday.

The United States is the only country in the world, other than Iran, that continues to send children to the execution chamber for crimes committed before turning age eighteen.

The Catholic Church has taken a strong stand against capital punishment and the Pope has intervened directly in cases where children faced execution.

International human rights organization Amnesty International has mobilized its members to campaign for Matthews. The Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office in Louisiana that prosecuted Matthews has received thousands of cards urging the reversal of Matthews’ death sentence.

The execution of individuals for crimes committed before age eighteen is specifically prohibited by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which has been ratified by the United States and more than 125 countries. It is also specifically prohibited by the nearly-universally ratified Convention on the Rights of the Child. Since 2000, only four countries in the world are known to have executed juveniles: The Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Pakistan, and the United States. But Pakistan recently abolished the death penalty for juvenile offenders and the Democratic Republic of Congo has established a moratorium on executions.

  • Billy Sothern,, Lawyer for Ryan Matthews with the Louisiana Crisis Assistance Center, and Director of Reprieve US.
  • Pauline Matthews, mother of Ryan Matthews, a juvenile offender on death row in Angola, Louisiana.
  • Rena Beazley, mother of Napoleon Beazley, who was executed in Texas May 28th, 2002 for murder of the father of a federal appeals court judge. Napoleon was 17 when arrested.

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