Gov. Northam grants conditional pardon to man with autism serving 10 years for Virginia Beach crash

Posted at 7:24 PM, Nov 09, 2020

RICHMOND, Va. - Matthew Rushin, a former ODU student with autism, has been granted a conditional pardon by Governor Ralph Northam after being sentenced to serve 10 years in jail for a crash that happened in January 2019.

Rushin was sentenced to 50 years with 40 years suspended for a crash his family and friends say was unintentional.

On Monday, Rushin's attorney announced the news that Rushin was granted a conditional and partial pardon by Northam.

The pardon requires Rushin agreeing to a number of strict requirements, including never possessing a firearm, not operating a vehicle, and never contacting the victims or their families.

Northam is reducing the sentence to ten years for each conviction with seven years five months suspended on each, to run concurrently, with credit for any time spent in confinement while awaiting trial and any earned sentencing credits.

With the pardon Rushin is expected to be released from custody no earlier than spring 2021.

The Virginia Beach Commonwealth's Attorney added, "Matthew Rushin’s conviction was not overturned. Governor Northam granted Rushin a conditional pardon, which means 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."

Rushin was sentenced for 10 years behind bars, despite sentencing guidelines that call for a sentence of 2 years 7 months up to 6 years 4 months.

Northam's conditional pardon now aligns Rushin's sentence with these sentencing guidelines.

Under Northam's requirements:

  • 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 he violates these terms in the next 10 years, Mr. Rushin shall be subject to arrest and incarceration to complete the remainder of his commuted sentence of ten years

In June, Rushin's family and friends held a rally seeking justice.During the rally, they expressed that they believe Rushin was wrongfully convicted and pleaded for him to be released from jail.

His case gained recognition and support from organizations such as the NAACP and the Autism Society of Tidewater.

Rushin's family starteda petitionto call on Governor Northam to look into the case, to ask for certain charges to be dropped and to have the sentence reduced.

Rushin was leaving a parking lot and hit a car after picking up pastries at a Panera. His mother, Lavern, said he may have been trying to grasp what happened because of his autism. Rushin turned back, but when he turned around he lost control and hit another car, according to the police investigation.

According to police reports, Rushin pleaded guilty on August 6, 2019. Police say if the case had gone to trial, evidence would have proven that Rushin struck another moving vehicle in a parking lot and did not stop. Police say Rushin fled the parking lot onto First Colonial Road, driving at a high rate of speed, which was captured on a store's surveillance camera.

The Virginia Beach Commonwealth's Attorney's Office, when Rushin reached a median break, he drove straight into oncoming traffic and hit a Honda Element head-on. It was occupied by a husband and wife from New York who were visiting Virginia Beach.

When officers arrived on scene, the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office says Rushin climbed out of his vehicle and said that he was trying to kill himself. An investigation revealed that he was driving approximately 65 mph right before the crash and didn't put on the brakes.

Four people were taken to the hospital. The husband and wife in the Honda Element suffered significant injuries and were treated and released later that night. The husband's injuries were so severe that he remains in a medical facility.

Related: Mother of autistic jailed son speaks out, months after conviction during rally