“My family found out on Facebook and my sister Facetimed me … she was crying … she couldn’t get it out. Then she finally said it – ‘Brian Matherne is out.’ I just fell to my knees. All I know is when I got up I knew I had to make this right. I knew I needed to get this monster back behind bars.”
Chad Becnel said it felt like he was back to ground zero last month when he found out that Brian Matherne had been mistakenly released from prison over seven years early.
Matherne, 66, coached several boys’ sports and taught various subjects at Norco’s Sacred Heart of Jesus School for over 20 years. Becnel was the first victim who spoke out and levied allegations against Matherne, paving the way for more victims to eventually come forward.
“I was the first one and I was the first one for about four months,” Becnel said. “We were definitely ostracized … my family was shunned. We were drug through the mud for those months.”
Becnel said when the allegations were first made public, community members and Sacred Heart teachers wore ribbons in their show of solidarity – not for Becnel, but for Matherne. Becnel also said that Archdiocese officials knew of his claims two years prior and ignored them – which allowed Matherne to continue to stay employed by the school.
Becnel’s sister Doreen Becnel Landry said her family “went through hell” during the time.
“Matherne was a pillar of the community,” she said. “People said that my brother’s accusations of being molested were all lies. Matherne is a complete monster who molested all these young boys during his 22 years of teaching. His early release shocked and maddened me to my core.”
Matherne was charged in 1999 with several hundred counts of child sex abuse. In 2000 he pleaded guilty in St. Charles Parish to molesting 17 boys during a 15-year period that ended in 1999.
Judge Robert Chaisson of the 29th Judicial District Court sentenced Matherne to 29 years, 11 months and 29 days. The sentence structure was crucial – a sentence of 30 years or more would have meant Matherne would eventually be eligible for parole or to be released early for exemplary behavior.
When they found Matherne was released early, Becnel said he and his family immediately reached out to the Louisiana Department of Corrections to try and learn why.
“I personally asked the lady on the phone if this possible … that this could have been a mistake,” Becnel said. “She told me that this was looked at by three people and she said, ‘We don’t make mistakes.’ It would have actually gone unnoticed if we didn’t call.”
Matherne was re-arrested last week following an investigation and WWL news segment. Becnel said the DOC has not issued any apology.
“No sympathy or explanation … no apology,” Becnel said. “It’s been just the opposite … she told us now there’s more paperwork she had to do because we found the mistake.”
The “nightmare on top of a nightmare,” Becnel said, was that none of Matherne’s victims were notified about his release.
“If we had been notified we could have prevented this,” Becnel said, adding that during Matherne’s nearly 30 days of freedom he was living just a little over a mile from a school and within less than 50 yards from several children. “Do you know how the number of times the DOC mistakenly releases someone prior to their release date? 125 per year on average … and that’s just in Louisiana. The silver lining here is that were made aware that things like this happen.”
Becnel said although the last couple of weeks have been emotionally draining, he knows he did the right thing in fighting for justice.
“The farther I get away again from this day again the better I’ll become,” he said. “I know I made the right decision. I’m glad I did it. A lot of victims have sent messages thanking me … one said, ‘I live 20 miles from where he was living … I can’t imagine if I would have run into him.’”