VIRGINIA BEACH, Va -- Matthew Rushin has been in jail for almost two years, but he's soon going home due to a conditional pardon from Governor Ralph Northam.
"I think I'm going to hug him and thank God that he's back in my arms,” Lavern Rushin, Matthew’s mother, said.
He was charged and sentenced to serve 10 years in jail for a January 2019 crash after pleading guilty with no trial.
She and supporters petitioned the governor for the pardon, citing his skin color and medical condition.
"He's a Black, autistic young man who has processes, and one of the processes is echolalia, and what convicted Matthew was his words,” Lavern said. “He repeated words from an angry man."
Those words, according to the investigation: "I’m going to kill myself."
For Danna and George Cusick, the anguish from the crash will not go away.
"Again, I do not call it an accident; it was a crash,” Danna said.
The Cusicks traveled to Virginia Beach from New York. They were injured in that crash, which left George paralyzed.
"We were able to do what we wanted to do, just going about our business, doing things for our children, for our grandchildren, enjoying life,” Danna said. “We had a bucket list, and out of nowhere came this crash."
The crash happened along First Colonial Road near the Interstate 264 intersection. Investigators reported Matthew was speeding, came into oncoming traffic, and hit the Cusicks.
“He's gone. My husband is gone,” Danna said. “George.... at this point now, I'm not even sure George knows who I am."
There are five conditions the conditional pardon calls for that Matthew must follow:
- The Virginia Parole Board must approve his “home plan,” and a parole officer will supervise him for five years.
- He must participate in supervised mental health treatment, counseling, and a substance abuse evaluation.
- He may not drive for the rest of his life. (He may petition a judge to change this after 10 years.)
- He may not own a firearm or have contact with the victims.
If Matthew violates these terms in the next 10 years, he will be subject to arrest and jailed to complete the remainder of his 10-year sentence.
News 3 received a statement from Matthew’s attorney:
The Rushin Family and Airington Law are happy to announce that Matthew Rushin has been granted a pardon by Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia. Matthew is a 22-year-old man with autism who was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison after a serious unintentional traffic accident.
The pardon provides for Matthew's release in early 2021. We would like to sincerely thank the Governor's office, the Secretary of the Commonwealth, and Probation & Parole for their conscientious attention to this case and for balancing justice and fairness in approving Matthew's pardon.
We know Matthew's case received a full and thorough review and we extend our heartfelt gratitude to everyone who reviewed this case, and everyone who advocated for Matthew. We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from legislators on both sides of the aisle, disability and autism advocacy groups, community members, and well-wishers from around the world.
Our goal was to secure Matthew's freedom, and that goal will be achieved very soon. We make this announcement with renewed faith in our system, and great optimism for Matthew's future.
The Commonwealth Attorney’s Office in Virginia Beach also shared a statement to News 3:
“Our hearts go out to the victims and their families in this case for the ongoing pain and legal process that they have had to endure.
The Governor’s Administration notified this office late last week of the decision to reduce Rushin’s sentence from the original sentence of 10 years. While it certainly is within the Governor’s authority to do so, this office believes that the sentence imposed by the court was appropriate, just and fair.
Matthew Rushin’s conviction was not overturned. Governor Northam granted Mr. Rushin a conditional pardon, which means his sentence was reduced. Governor Northam is not altering Mr. Rushin’s conviction in any way. Matthew Rushin remains convicted of the felonies to which he pled guilty.”
We asked Danna if she had a message for the Rushins, but she had no comment.
As for Lavern, she said she did have a message to share: "I wish that I could take their pain away. We're remorseful; Matthew is remorseful."
Matthew is scheduled to be back home before spring.