WARNING: Some of the details I discuss in this article are graphic. Reader discretion is advised. I do not reveal these details lightly. The purpose is to illustrate the brutality and selfishness of this alleged crime. No disrespect is meant toward the deceased or her family. Mr. Matthews is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. These are my opinions and observations and are not affiliated with Houston Community Newspapers and Media Group, Star Communications or 1013 Inc.
As a reporter, I get to share in many joys and positive moments in our community. I also hear the worst of the worst. I was on the scene soon after three Manvel High School students died in a one-vehicle crash. That vision often haunts my dreams.
When I first heard about the murder of Arrijana Hill on March 21, 2014, I was not yet employed by Houston Community Newspapers. As such, I could feel sympathy, but not get too close. However, sitting behind the alleged killer, Ryan Matthews, this morning, I thought I couldn’t get any closer.
The State’s opening statements were detailed and lasted over an hour. When the Deputy DA was finished, I felt like I had been run over by a truck. I can’t imagine how the Hills must feel. Such senselessness. Such selfishness.
Before the trial began, I sat in the mostly empty courtroom, finishing an article on the City Council meeting last night. Judge Pat Sebesta came down and chatted with me briefly, amiable as always. I received a text from my friend who wanted to sit in on the trial, trying to find the courtroom. So, when Ryan Matthews was brought in the room, I barely noticed.
He’s a lanky young man of 17, dressed in a sky blue button-down shirt and slacks. I half expected him to sit with the audience. He’s a handsome boy, but his eyes…they are sad. As he sat at the defendant’s table, I realized why.
How could this nice-looking, clean-cut young man choke his pregnant girlfriend to death with his own bare hands and then stab her in the neck? Looks are deceiving, as they say. Do any of us know what we’re capable of, really?
After some pre-trial business, the State presented its opening statements.
Assistant District Attorney Travis Townsend presented a timeline put together by text messages and phone calls between Ryan and Arrijana, Ryan and several other girls and Ryan and a friend that he often paid to give him rides.
Ryan Matthews was a talented athlete. He was a student at Pearland High School, participating in both football and track. He and his parents realized that he’d have a better opportunity for a scholarship if he finished high school at Dawson, but he was not zoned to attend DHS. He had a female friend that was zoned to Dawson, so he enrolled there using her address and transferred in 2013.
Arrijana Hill was also a talented athlete. She was a track star in several events, including the high jump, at Dawson High School. She had two brothers, one older and in college, and one younger in junior high. She had two loving and understanding parents, as demonstrated by their unconditional acceptance of her, even after she confided in them that she had gotten pregnant at the age of 16.
Ryan and Arrijana crossed paths in the athletics program and started, “hooking up,” as the kids say these days [mom moment…sorry].
The first time they had unprotected sex was on December 18, 2013. Once is all it takes.
Eleven days later, on December 29, Ryan texted Arrijana: u r on ur period, right?
Arrijana: uhh…I haven’t started yet, so idk [that’s “I don’t know” for you old folks]
On January 29, Ryan texted Arrijana again, asking if she had started her period yet. Arri, as Ryan called her, told him that she had missed her period in December and January. Ryan encouraged her to “punch urself in the stomach…lol.” In fact, that request would be sent to Arri over and over and over, with an occasional “Did u punch urself tonite? lol” in there.
LOL means “laughing out loud” for those unfamiliar with text abbreviations. However, “LOL” can be meant as truly laughing, indicating lightheartedness or as a way of saying, “I’m just joking.” It’s impossible to conclude the intent of this abbreviation on a text message, as many a couple can attest to after fighting over a misunderstanding of tone in a text…because there is no tone.
Ryan asked Arri about her period several times in February. She took a home pregnancy test on February 26 after staying home from school, feeling ill. It was positive. She visited her OB/GYN the next day, who confirmed her pregnancy, estimating that she was 12 weeks along. She texted Ryan to tell him. What she got back was surely disheartening. He encouraged her to get an abortion.
News travels fast, even in the largest of high schools, so it wasn’t long before other students were buzzing. On March 5, Ryan texted Arri that he was “pissed off” about the rumors and said “I’m gonna go off on the next f***er that talks to me.”
On March 6, Arri’s doctor informed her that she was going to have twins. She was excited and felt blessed. She told Ryan. His response: wtf? that’s not good news. [wtf = “what the f*ck”] Later, he added “can I punch u in the stomach pls lol” [pls = “please”] and “I cant believe this is f***ing happening to me.”
It’s unclear whether Arrijana knew that Ryan was talking to other girls during this time, but his text messages indicated that he was. On March 20, he texted the girl whose address he was using, telling her that he loved her.
On March 21, the day of the murder, Ryan texted Arri that he was leaving campus early and that he wanted her to come with him, presumably for sex. At 1:41 pm, Arrijana Hill sent the last text she would ever send. She told Ryan where she was in the school and asked him to text her when he was ready to go.
Though “normal” days showed Ryan sending 200+ texts, his phone showed no activity from 2:09 pm until 2:43 pm on March 21. That’s a little over 34 minutes. Was he silent because he was having a rendezvous with his lover? Or was he silent because he was killing Arrijana?
At 2:43, Ryan texted his friend and asked to be picked up. This friend thought that he was dropping Ryan off so that he could spend time with his girlfriend. Ryan paid the friend $20 regularly for rides.
Video surveillance showed Ryan and his friend leaving the Hill’s neighborhood at 3:11.
At 3:24, Ryan sent a text to Arri: “hey baby.” In the next 24 seconds, Ryan sent two other texts to her. Then, never again.
Arrijana’s younger brother got off the bus from junior high school at the front of his neighborhood at 4:22 pm and caught a ride home with a neighbor. He noticed that only one of the two locks on the back door were locked. As he entered, he noticed a broken lamp and some other displaced and broken items. He decided that he needed to get out of the house and went to a neighbor’s to call his mother.
At 4:36, Arri’s mother, Opal, texted her: “Where r u?”
Opal left work and arrived at her home soon after. Noticing the same things her son did, she left the house and called her husband, David, who came home immediately.
Opal called 9-1-1 at 5:01 pm.
David arrived home and searched the house, where he found his daughter’s body upstairs, lying in a pool of blood.
Pearland Police Department arrived on the scene at 5:10 pm. They noted no sign of forced entry (which can mean that the victim knew the attacker or that the attacker had a key to the home), that the scene looked “staged,” as in someone had gone through and knocked things over to make it look a certain way and that nothing was taken from the home (which would indicate that this was not a robbery gone bad).
Detectives continued their investigation, while Ryan transferred suddenly to Pasadena Memorial High School on April 5, which was also his 17th birthday.
The Medical Examiner conducted the autopsy, which showed that Arrijana had been asphyxiated and that her carotid artery had been punctured by a sharp instrument. There were other stab marks on her body. Ryan’s DNA was found in her vagina and anus.
Detectives collected samples from the clothing that Ryan was wearing on March 21, as well as from his backpack. Arrijana’s DNA was found on these items.
Defense attorneys argued that the investigation suffered from “tunnel vision” after someone suggested that the killer was Ryan on social media. They pointed out that a landscaper and his crew had been in the area during the time of the murder. They said there had been a footprint found that did not match Ryan’s shoe size. They repeatedly remind the jury to, “remember that he was a 16 year-old boy” and to try to think like a teenager would.
Will this be enough to exonerate Ryan Matthews? Only time and the trial will tell. It is MY opinion that the facts in this case will prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Ryan Matthews knowingly, and with premeditation, killed Arrijana Hill because she insisted on having her babies. He did not want to be tied down or have his bright future in sports lost because he was a father.
Yes, all teenagers are egocentric – they can only think about themselves. But not all teenagers are capable of murder. We’ll find out in time if Ryan Matthews is capable of the unthinkable. I believe he is…and now look at his bright future.
If convicted, Matthews will receive up to 40 years in prison without parole because he was a juvenile at the time of the alleged crime.
My heart, thoughts and prayers go out to David and Opal Hill and their two sons, as well as the parents of Ryan Matthews. I am also keeping all of the investigators in my thoughts as well, as it must have been (and may still be) very hard to deal with the death of such a young and promising life…plus two.